The home invader standing opposite me in my living room was speaking truth—I did want to know why I’d received something so strange in the mail. But believing him unequivocally meant all of what he claimed, and I wasn’t ready to commit.
“Steph,” he said, leaning into his words as he spoke. “I’m only here to help, but believe me, if you follow that invitation, I won’t be able to protect you.”
“I don’t need your protection.”
“I’m a friend, it’s my job.”
“An imaginary one, right?” I let my weight shift to the opposite hip.
“If you want to call it that, let’s call it that.”
“So, you wanna tell me what’s really going on here?”
He sat with perfect posture, and his hands lay unmoving in his lap, fingers cable-knit. He wasn’t quite smiling, or stone-faced, just sat complacently. He cleared his throat and for the first time I noticed he was wearing glasses and an ill-fitting suit.
“I already told you exactly what’s really going on here.”
A clock on the wall behind me seemed to be screaming my name louder and with increasing intensity with each passing second. If for nothing more than ease of mind, I wished I’d brought the paring knife I’d just used for this morning’s breakfast into the living room with me. My visitor was pensive, threatening, and had no excuse for his sudden unannounced presence in my home.
“But that’s bullshit,” I probed.
“I assure you, it’s not.”
“Ok, but hypothetically…” I scooted forward in my seat. “Humor me for a sec.”
He nodded serenely. I made a mental note to scout out a similar bowler for myself next time I’m out shopping. Wait, when was the last time I went shopping? I mentally shredded the note.
“So, let’s say it is bullshit. Hypothetically, of course. And you are not actually my imaginary friend, then what? Is it then safe for me to assume you are a serial killer or serial rapist or cereal thief or something?”
“Based on what?”
I nearly flipped the table.
“Based on— are you serious…?”
Slightly flailing, I stilled my hands and inhaled slowly, gathering them into a pensive double fist under my chin.
“Based on the following observations: One, you are in my house claiming to be my imaginary friend from 22 years ago. Two, I am not on hard drugs, that I know of. Three…actually, no I think that about sums it up.”
“Don’t fucking call me that.”
“Alright…Miss. Stevens… maybe try to break away from those insecurities one of these days, but I’m not sure how else to explain myself. I’m simply here to fulfill my half of our contract — with interest — as I admit to having been derelict in my payments to date.”
“You’re referring to the contract I supposedly signed with you,” I replied.
“That is correct. 22 years ago, to be exact.”
“Which I signed in crayon.”
“When I was six.”
“I feel like you are leading up to a point that I’ve missed.”
“The point is, get the fuck out of my house and leave me alone.”
I could feel frustration coming to a rolling boil behind my eyes. I didn’t have the patience for anything like this when he showed up, and the faint pretense of it had evaporated. I stood and clenched my fists several times to illustrate my anger and hopefully instilled the idea that I could lash out at him at any moment. He took the cue to leave but his persistence tattooed his essence into the air, bouncing echoes of him from the walls of my 240 square foot sanctuary for the remainder of the day.
I felt a headache masturbating in the damp crawl space between the back of my brain and the inside of my skull. With the curtains drawn I scavenged for a glass to serve as a speed bump for last night’s bender. As I slipped out of my clothes and into my hot pocket of a bed the doorbell rang. I knew I was on thin ice having called off at the diner again, but I was running on fumes and expired food drive donations alone at this point and I wouldn’t let Roc or anyone else drag me to that place alive. With relative ease, I found a few amber vials and enough liquid sleep to put down a cult leader with Viagra seizing his every blood vessel.
The doorbell again.
I’m taking a sick day.
The room fell chill, and as I pulled the blankets up to my eyelids I freed an exhale I had inadvertently taken hostage some time ago.
I fell into a contented state of hypoawareness that was deepened by the Nutribullet ad I’d somehow recorded and managed to get stuck on never-ending looped playback.
The following day, one I had hoped would be hallucination-free, I woke the hell up. As if collected spinal fluid had just released my legs from a temporary paralysis, I itched to go outside.
On my petite patio, the sun was warm, though the air was chilled. When I yawned, my breath coalesced in front of my face and I felt refreshed staring into the pink sky above me.
Instinct kicked in before I could gather my wits. My hands gathered the folds of my robe tightly around my body like the wings of a burrito.
“Hi, aren’t you cold?”
I shrugged as hard as my muscles would allow, nearly bursting my own eardrums from the suction of my shoulders smacking either side of my head and peeling away instantaneously.
She regarded me with furrowed brows from her own balcony. “Where have you been? DHL came by and dropped your package at my door since you weren’t around yesterday. Hold on, I’ll go get it.”
I stood on my balcony wearing nothing but the stupidest shopping decision of my adult life and socks woven entirely of chagrin. Waiting would have been easy had it not been so cold, had I a proper pair of pants-or panties even- and had I not hated the shit out of the girl.
“So just go back inside if you’re so miserable,” he said from behind me.
“Okay, maybe not hate.” I unwittingly replied to my ghostly visitor out loud. “I might have at one point wanted to have brief relations with her but my efforts might have been met with less enthusiasm than I would have liked.”
“I can sympathize.”
I spun on my heels, mouth agape, index finger erect, robe blossoming like a morning flower. There he stood, just on my balcony. Before I could become angry I fell into a mix of confusion and curiosity at how he’d gotten there since the only way was through the apartment, of which he must have had free reign.
“Look,” he started. “I know you are a little confused-”
“I’m dead. Or in a coma. It’s one of the two.”
“You’re not either.”
“I’m sure as hell about to be,” I said climbing onto the railing.
“Steph!” Alicia’s voice lacked its normally seductive gruffness. She stood on her balcony, adjacent mine with Concern™ drawn on her face like an etch-a-sketch. It was almost instantly shaken away, however.
My robe fluttered pathetically behind me.
I scrambled back over the railing trying to find my footing and belt all at once.
“Alicia, sorry, I was just...um. Yeah, I’m not um, y’know. I’m not.”
She waited patiently, shifting her weight on her hips and placing my package under one arm.
“It’s cold, you know, so what you might have seen—”
“Ugh.” She tossed the package across the gap and it landed at my feet with a thick thud.
“Hey, you don’t know what’s in there, asshole.”
“Excuse me, that p.o.s. was left in my possession, I have every right.”
“Wait, you opened it?” I said, stooping to pick it up. “That’s a federal offense you know. What is it?”
“I don’t know, open it for yourself.” She slid her patio door open with the weight of her body. She didn’t go in immediately, I assumed she was just as curious about the package as I was.
“So you didn’t open it...” I said, my eyes still fixed to the semi legible return address scrawled across the top. When I looked up to meet her eyes, they were hollowed and worried.
“Steph,” she said heavily. “Is everything ok? Are you ok?”
I was probably in the middle of having an aneurysm as she spoke to me, but I swallowed my urge to say something sardonic this time. The box was surprisingly light in my hands; I searched its surface for a viable response.
“Yeah,” I remade eye contact in brief stints. “Of course I am. I’m fine, you know. I’m just making the moves I’m always bitching about, y’know. It’s cool.”
“’Cause, I mean it looked like you were going to jump—”
Shit. I obviously wasn’t gonna jump off the fucking third floor and risk literally shattering my legs from the knee down into as many pieces as there are children working more hours a week than me in China. Maybe the sixth floor, but no lower.
“I know things are probably weird for you right now...”
Things are never weird enough for me to want whatever you’re about to propose, I thought.
“I mean, if you ever want to talk about anything”
“I’m good, Alicia.”
“Just remember I’m here if you ever need anything. I’m just worried about you lately…”
“Hey, OK, I get it thanks, I got brooding to do, so if you could just…”
She couldn’t tell I needed a little eff-the-world time to be with my package alone, save for my guest whose presence burned my crotch no less than herpes itself. Returning to the apartment proved to be a pretty shitty stack-up of a decision against jumping from the balcony. In the hospital, I might have ended up on enough lorazepam to forget my own name.
“I see you still doubt my intentions, Steph.”
He was in my home. Again. I had just wanted to be in my house, alone, and do my stretches on my day off. Why couldn’t I have this? When was the last time I was allowed to do my stretches on a day off from Marty’s? If I recalled correctly it’d been a few weeks since my jobs’ off days lined up so perfectly. Yet on this most holy of days did a demon choose to glide down on obsidian wings and smite my first-born happiness as it slept in the night. Why?
“Ok. Tall, weird man in my house. What do you want? What actually do you want? I am suspending my disbelief pretty fucking hard right now, so you’d better hit me with all you got.”
“Stephanette,” he paused as I gave him my best impersonation of the Rock’s Eyebrow. “Steph, I have only come to fulfill my end of the deal, and with only a fortnight at my disposal I can’t very well leave you, can I?”
“You can. Very well. You definitely can.”
“But I will not.”
“What’s the deal? What do you have to do? How fast can we do this? I had plans today.”
“Stretching in the mirror so you can give your patrons a bird’s eye view of little Steph’s kitchenette is no way to spend a day off, dear.”
“For your information, I work at an M-rated club. No one sees my kitchenette. And if you think you having info about me you can swipe from Facebook is creepy or going to convince me to do anything you are sorely mistaken.”
I sensed his gaze lingering on my package and felt tempted to hit him. I didn’t need him snooping around any more than he already had. I decided to stash it away for later perusal, knowing good and well what it was already, but he had no place joining me at such a private moment. I soon after re-decided I wouldn’t risk placing it somewhere only to have him reapparate in another room with the damn thing supernaturally opened and all over the house in shreds. So, I walked around the house holding my DHL box under one arm until he decided to leave. The high-pitched chirping of my cell phone made the apartment sound empty. Its echo bounced off the walls until I found the offender hiding in the pillows and smothered it until it stopped moving and fell silent. When I turned, he was staring at me.
“Would you fucking stop? Just leave, just fucking leave my apartment!”
“You’re ignoring me when you should be listening to my warning.”
“What warning? People send things to the wrong address all the time, I—”
Loud thuds on the other side of a reinforced front door sealed my lips. I didn’t mean to, but once the knocks stopped I realized I’d dropped behind the couch, and slowly stood, shrugging off my intruder’s dry clapping.
“Someone in your position should understand when something is dangerous to the health of its participants,” he said quietly.
“Someone in my position?” I whispered through my teeth. “I am not doing anything the average citizen doesn’t do on a semi-regular basis.”
“Then who’s after you?” He leaned against the arm of the couch, letting his head fall in my direction.
I quickly stood and rushed to the peephole.
“No one," I muttered. "I like my privacy.”
I walked into the kitchen and started prepping food.
“You like to run, don’t you, Steph?” He followed me, dragging his toes along the floor with each exaggerated step. “That’s a habit we’ll have to break.”
“Mister, please. I don’t have time for this anymore. For all I know, you’re the reason for all this commotion around here. This is a quiet building, after all. A nice area. Then you show up with these stories and postcards and it all seems to convenient.”
“Then why haven’t you attacked me? We both know you act first, think later. So why haven’t you run off? Tried to knock me out or called the police? Because you believe me, deep down. You remember me, at least a little, and you knew when you held that card in your hands that what I say is the truth.”
“I believe what I see, what I can prove. An invitation to my hometown isn’t instantly suspicious, you are. Now, I’ve taken in fugitives before, but you’re overstaying your welcome.”
“I’m no fugitive, Steph,” he took a few languid steps forward. “I’m your friend. If you want to go back there so badly, maybe I oughta remind you why we left in the first place.”
I felt nausea climbing up my throat, forcing hot saliva from glands swollen in the back of my mouth. My vision blurred, and as I wiped them with trembling fists, they opened on a metal jungle parked in the middle of a clearing just adjacent my elementary school. My apartment walls, gone.
I must have smoked more than I thought I did last night, I couldn’t help but think as I watched a smaller, younger me standing with her eyes covered against a tree. When she finished counting she ran off to find one of the other fourth-graders hiding in the labyrinth of plastic and metal that comprised the school playground.
I was maybe ten years old, wearing the brightest yellow parka my parents could afford. I had just enrolled in this school after moving to the small town with my adoptive parents, Marge and Jeff. They were a “nice”, Christian couple with money. Money they earned, I should specify, as I had not worked, nor earned nor had any rights to. They made sure to remind me of the virtue of working for one’s keep. I was ten when I got my first job, and as I watched my younger self running around the playground, a rusted red pickup rolled into the lot. Its rims were shinier than its entirety and it hulked over the other cars in the lot.
It was around noon when Jeff picked me up from school during recess to put me to work. I saw my father tugging me away despite my exclamations.
“I haven’t found them yet, Jeff, let me go, I have to call olly-olly-oxen-free! They won’t come out of hiding if I don’t call, it’s not fair!”
“Girlie, if there’s one thing a dark-skinned girl like you oughta know it’s that we all gotta work to get basic things sometimes, and that coat shoain’t buy itself.”
By we he’d meant people like me, as I came to learn. People who weren’t so lucky in the birthday lottery. Some of us have been bronzed by the sun and branded from birth as less than or other. My father made sure I never forgot that the color I wore would be the vehicle for my unending misery.
He put me in the truck as I tried shouting the words to end the game. I had already made enough of a scene for all my friends to have come out of hiding and stand at the edge of the playground watching with stoic faces as my adoptive father drove away with me in the back seat of his truck, shouting with tears streaming down my face, olly-olly-oxen-free. Over and over and over until a swift pop from his right hand set me straight. I remember riding home that night from the farm and feeling myself shaking from fatigue. My first day in the field was hard and too long. But I spent many days working after that. My fair-skinned father never answered any questions about why I had to work but my adoptive brother, Tyson didn’t. Eventually I stopped asking, and got good at the work so I could free up more time to play with my friends. My father saw it as a sign that I was apt to work a little more here, or a little longer there. Until I stopped going to school altogether.
I blinked my eyes as I recalled the day everything changed, and fought a stinging in my eyes.
In the present, I removed my hands from my eyes, now feeling the moist release of tears who won the fight and poured themselves down my cheeks. I could feel how warm they were as I slumped into a crouch on the hallway floor, like two rivers reminiscent of Styx, and Dennis would serve as my guide into my own personal hell. It was real.
“What the fuck did you do?” I could barely stand on shaking legs. I used the wall for support as I stood in the hallway calling out to Dennis.
“I returned a memory,” he answered from around the corner. “Was it too much at once?”
“What the fuck is going on—who are you?!” I could hear my voice shaking in tandem with my limbs.
“I told you already, didn’t I?”
“But that’s impossible.”
“Improbable,” he raised a pointed finger from around the corner. “Try not to conflate the two.”
He turned the corner and came into full view, giving me a good look at my tormentor. He was tall with smooth, creamy skin. His hair was a tight, curly poof just at the top of his head. He wore ill-fitting clothes whenever I saw him, like a child playing dress up. He was lanky, and strolled over to me oblivious of my fear.
“Don’t fucking come near me.” I held up two quivering fists. “Why couldn’t my neighbor see you?”
“I’m not lying, Steph. We’ve been together for most of your life. Now you’ve returned to a state where you can see me again.”
“Again? I don’t remember you.”
“As per usual. But it’s alright, Steph. If you cooperate, I’ll show you the truth of your past—the one you’ve spent decades avoiding.”
“Why would I agree to anything like that? How did you even do that earlier? There’s no way this is real…”
“You’re sober, don’t worry. You probably wouldn’t be able to hear me if you weren’t.”
“Good to know.” I went to the living room to take a seat feeling like my head would spin off my body.
“Don’t go getting any ideas. You called me here and I’m not allowed to leave if I don’t hold up my end of things. Your life may be in danger. I’m only here to help you.”
“Can I cancel that deal? I’m thinking six-year-old me wasn’t the best at negotiating legally binding agreements.”
“This is a contract that cannot be nullified save by the deaths of the participants. I think you’re better off with me.”
“I’d be willing to debate that,” I said placing pinched fingers over the bridge of my nose.
“I know you would. I know all sorts of things about you. Like your ‘neighbor’, for instance. When are we going to resolve things?”
“Don’t fucking go there, ghost-man.”
“I’m not a ghost, I’m a figment.”
“Right, because there is a difference.”
“Steph,” he came around to stand in front of me on the couch. “I wouldn’t try to outrun this if I were in your position, or you may never stop. If we’re going to win this fight, I need you to be ready for it.”
“I’m not fighting anyone, I just want you to leave. I’ve been perfectly fine for plenty of years without you interfering, so just retreat to whatever damp recess of my mind spawned you so I can do what I need to do. I’m not worried about some stupid postcard. I’m fine.”
“Steph, I know what you’re really worried about. I know everything about you and more, you’ll see. You might have gotten the notion that you steer the ship somewhere along the line, but the reality of it is you’ve been running on autopilot for so many years now, this vessel is ripe for the taking. And if you don’t plan to do it, I figure I’m the only one with enough know-how to captain it. If you intend to let us run into the rocks, believe me when I say I have no qualms stepping in.”
I kept Dennis’s parting words fresh on my mind for the next day’s breakfast. With some tea, I tried digesting it, and nearly choked considering its implications.
He’d told me I’d made him promise, but I felt uneasy attempting to put two and two together. I resolved to let my day off be a waste and continue with this one that presented itself Dennis-free and by 6am seemed a far better one to its predecessor.
“Shit. I do not need this right now.”
As I attempted to juggle the tea and my long-forgotten package from the day prior I miscalculated my order of operations and locked the keys inside the car. I pulled out my phone and started making calls. While it rang for Roland, one of the waiters at the diner, I dropped the package onto my lap. My college acceptance was a long time coming, but at the moment I should have enjoyed it most I felt numbed by this intruder in my life. Though he neglected to show himself at this moment, part of me wished he would so I could rub in his face that dancers can get their education despite whatever bullshit he used to dump me into a depression that morning. And to show him how painful it was to fight for something you should never have to fight for at all.
When Roland refused to pick up, despite likely knowing it was me calling, I tried my second-best ace, Rochelle. Roc was a full-fledged server, even if she’d still only been able to garner some 20 hours or so every week from our miserly employer. The phone rang a few times before cutting to voicemail.
“This is great. No one else is on morning shift who has a car.” I sighed and slumped against my green Ford Escort wishing I had Dennis’s ability to phase through shit to get my keys. But, he never showed up. As I sat in the roly-poly infested dirt, and ants begin surmounting the peaks of my sneakers, I wondered what it would be like to see a shrink. I never got to see one growing up, seeing as how they’re fucking expensive and my first set of parents were frugal enough to wash my prom dress with the tag sealed in a Ziploc so they could refund it after having it cleaned. I didn’t know if these were the types of memories you repress, or suppress. I kept them under the miscellaneous filing of “just choose not to think about it”. Sinking further into my depression I felt a soft buzz against my back door and pulled my phone out to check it. Roc calling back. Perfect.
“Hey, Roc, sorry to call when you’re already on the clock,” I started in my most suave voice.
“Oh, no problemo!” Her voice was pure yellow, beaming through the receiver. Bright, piercing, joyous. Exactly what I needed. “I was just waiting on someone and forgot to turn the ringer off, Tulsa’s not too happy with me but it was kind of my own fault. What do you need?”
“Why do you assume I need something, Roc? Can’t I just call to hear your radiant voice?”
“Oh, haha!” She laughed in quick, soprano staccato. “You flirt, come one, seriously, what’s up? I’m in the break room right now but I gotta get back to my table in a sec, is everything cool?”
“Ah, my bad, shit,” I got carried away for a moment and nearly forgot I needed a ride. I caught Roc up to speed and crossed every appendage I could without looking deranged.
“Oh, I can come pick you up, and I know someone who can get your keys out of the car, we can head over after work after I drop you back off at home.”
“What do you mean, we get out at the same time today.” I wasn’t aware of any schedule changes.
“Oh, well, I picked up one of Roland’s shifts so I’m working a double today.”
“Roc, you shouldn’t be working his shifts, I told you it’s dangerous in the area after dark, do you want one of my shifts for the week? I can give you Thursday.”
“Oh! No, no, you need the money just as much as I do, no worries! I get off at seven so it’s not too late, it’s still light outside hahaha!”
“Yeah, but that’s not the poi-”
“Oh, hey I gotta go, my customer’s looking for me, I’ll be by in twenty minutes, I’ll tell Tulsa I’m coming to get you, gotta go, bye!”
Shit. That girl should not have been picking up Roland’s shift. Why was Tulsa letting her? She knew the history of the neighborhood better than anyone, and yet… I pushed it from my mind momentarily and drudged back to the apartment. Climbing the stairs, I fished my keys from my pockets at the second landing and had the chosen one poised and ready by the third. I nearly shouted seeing Dennis standing there when I got to the third landing. I should have expected him, in hindsight.
In my apartment, I dropped the acceptance package on the table and sat on the couch made of foam and wooden pallets. It seemed like a creative, ‘fun’ idea at the time, though now I saw the impracticality of it. Just then, along a tiny stretch of the living room floor I saw them. Tiny, black dots, marching away with what appeared to be my food that I paid for with my stripping money. The pizza I’d left out for Dennis was untouched, save for the million and three-quarter ant hands that’d traversed it by now. Under the safety of my pallet couch they crawled in one side and out the other, transporting pizza bit by pizza bit back to their queen. I imagined it must be nice to have hoards of slaves bringing you pizza.
“You didn’t touch your pizza.”
“I don’t eat pizza.”
“Because you’re imaginary and don’t need to eat, right, almost forgot I was crazy.”
“No, I’m lactose intolerant.”
“But thank you, Steph.”
“Right, of course. Why the fuck not. So anyway, here in the real world I have to go to work, so if you could leave I’d appreciate it.”
“I can’t leave until our contract is fulfilled, Steph, you know that. I can go where you can’t see me, but I can’t leave yet. I still have 13 days to help you.”
“Okay, look,” I grabbed my cell phone from the pallet couch and googled with more ferocity than I’ve ever seen myself possess during a simple search. I dialed the first number that appeared in the results.
“Hello?” I answered as soon as I heard a human voice. “My name is Stephanette Stevens and I am batshit crazy, when can I come in?”
“Well, Ms. Stevens,” the woman on the other end of the line seemed irritable so early in the morning. “Have you ever seen anyone here before?”
“Nope first time but I’m pretty crazy so could you squeeze me in today?”
“When you say crazy, how do you mean that?”
“I’m talking to-” I remembered my side of the agreement and bit my tongue. I hadn’t thought this far ahead. Shit. “I was having suicidal thoughts?”
“I see, ok Ms. Stevens, where are you locate-”
“No!” Unsure, I continued my advance, “I was but I’m not anymore, I just want to talk to someone!”
There was a brief silence and I started feeling sweat beading in my pits. I didn’t know why I was getting so worked up about something my delusion wanted, but the room felt hot suddenly.
“Can I come in today?” I tried my luck again.
“…sure, Miss Stevens, but you need to come right away and I will be alerting our staff of what you’ve shared so we will have to call Emergency services, this is state la-”
“’K, I’ll see you after work, bye!” I hung up and breathed as normally as my spinning head would allow. “Happy now?” I threw my arms out at my sides exasperated. In my hand, Roc called to let me know she was on the way.
“Not quite, Steph, there’s one more thing I need from you, I promise it won’t take long.”
Before I realized it, Dennis was standing across from me, and as he slowed his breath, so too did mine. He started walking backwards, and against all will I followed. When his back was to the bathroom he stopped, me standing just opposite him, miming his every move. He crouched. I crouched. He raised his hands over his head and shielded his face. I did the same. When I opened my eyes, it was dark.
The room smelled of human, and moisture seemed to hang in the air like it had nowhere to escape. I could hear muffled sounds. Breath. Sobbing. A small voice. My heart raced in my chest and I suddenly lost my legs. I crumbled on the dark floor, grasping for reality but finding nothing at the ends of my sprawled fingertips, until a patch of wet, curly hair made contact with my open palm. I cautiously fingered the hair, recognizing the texture as like my own. My hand placed on the small head, I could feel the sobbing shaking the girl’s small frame. Just as I inched forward to console what was no doubt my younger self again, I snapped awake. The room floods with light and Roc’s light rapping on the front door signals my escape. I sprinted out of the house, gasping for air in Roc’s blue pickup truck.
“Are you ok? Why did you run out like that? Oh, my god, do we need to go to the emergency room?”
Her concern eased me, “no, I’m ok, I just did some stretches before and, let’s, uh, let’s just drive. I need to get to work, I know Tulsa is fuming right now.”
“Don’t worry about Tulsa, your wellbeing should be a higher priority, Steph.”
She’s always been too kind to me. But I accepted her words and allowed myself to calm down as she drove to the diner, towing my sanity behind the truck and watching it dangle at the end of a long thin rope in the side-view mirror I had a nagging feeling. I know that rope will snap. It’s definitely coming.
Back at the diner I settled in for another rudimentary day. A few of the regulars came by, bucket hat, old couple with too many stories to share with the staff, crazy pigeon-loving guy who always gets three pancakes, etc. As quickly as I’d clocked in I shuffled away to the nearest mushroom cave I could find, the diner pantry, and by the light of my phone, I studied. I had been making great progress lately, until Dennis had shown up and made me lose focus. As soon as Roc assured me she’d cover my tables, 4-8, I shut the door behind me and drowned myself in the text.