Terrible, Thanks For Asking

Sandy Price was sitting at a table, waiting for Reggie Carter to arrive. She wasn’t dressed sharp, as one normally would when meeting with an old friend, and instead had opted for an old torn t-shirt and pajama pants. Thankfully, they were only meeting at a cafe and not somewhere fancy, so she could get away with it. A waiter came by the table and handed her a menu, and she looked up at him, pushing her hair behind her ear.

“Thank you,” she said politely.

“Do you know what you want?” the waiter asked, “Or what you may want to drink?”

“I’m just going to have an iced tea and your most expensive, artery clogging sandwich,” Sandy said and the waiter nodded.

“One slice of quick death coming right up,” he said, before turning and heading off into the cafe. Sandy opened her menu, simply for something to read until Reggie showed up, and after a few moments, she heard a voice in front of her.

“Isn’t it weird how they put how many calories are in each item now?” Reggie asked, taking her seat across from Sandy, “People used to make fun of calorie counters, and now McDonalds puts how many calories are in a hashbrown. Someone will laugh at Global Warming and yet turn off every lightbulb in their house for an hour in an effort to ‘Go Green’ for a facebook event. The hypocrisy and the associated blindness that goes hand in hand is hilarious and yet terrifying.”

Reggie was wearing a nice blue, backless dress and what looked to be a very realistic, well styled blonde wig. She looked beautiful, and at first glance, you’d never suspect she was sick. Sandy was surprised at how seeing her made her feel good.

“It’s just amazing how quickly society adapts to whoever is calling the shots now, and then tries to deny they were ever any other way. ‘Oh, what, being nerdy is in now? Well, good thing I’ve always been a nerd and never shoved anyone in a locker before’. It’s ridiculous,” Reggie said, sitting down as Sandy watched the waiter set her sandwich and drink down on the table, before turning to Reggie.

“What can I get for you ma’am?” he asked.

“I’ll just have a slice of pumpkin pie please,” she said and he nodded, heading off back inside as Reggie folded her hands and watched Sandy quietly take a bit from her sandwich, trying to talk with her mouth full.

“You loof goo’,” Sandy said, chewing and swallowing, “You look good,” she repeated, “I mean, your hair looks nice and-”

“Oh, it’s a wig,” Reggie said, “I mean, it’s a high end model, but it’s a wig. Not that I’m embarrassed or ashamed of it. We all deal with what we’re handed in life, right? Some people got rich. I got sick. It is what it is.”

“You don’t sound particularly sad about being on deaths doorstep,” Sandy said.

“I’m not on deaths door. More like deaths driveway. Still, it happens to everyone, and to some people it happens sooner, so why be upset about something that’ll happen to all of us eventually anyway? Besides, it’s not a total lost cause. There’s still some hope it’ll get better,” Reggie said as Sandy sipped her drink.

“That’s the spirit I guess,” Sandy said.

“How’re you doing? It’s been so long,” Reggie asked, sounding genuine in her interest. Sandy pushed her hair back and pulled it up into a bun before thinking for a moment.

“It’s okay. I’m working as a dance teacher for ballet, mostly for young girls right now, which is fine. Living with a guy named Derek. I’m…we’re….I don’t know what we are. We just are. We live together, sometimes we sleep together, it’s all as vague as the rest of my life to be honest. Not speaking to my mother much. She’s not happy about my job. Not much exciting going on,” Sandy said, her eyes sitting on her drink the entire time.

“…well, it doesn’t sound like a bad life, exactly. I mean, you’re doing what you like, right? And you’ve got someone by your side. That’s better than most people I’ve spoken to from college.”

“Is it really worth having someone by your side if you’re not sure you want them there?” Sandy asked, suddenly surprising even herself by her own statement as it left her mouth, and she clenched her fists tight, “I mean…not that I don’t like having Derek, but-”

“You don’t have to explain, Sandy, I get it,” Reggie said, “Believe me, getting sick really puts into perspective who really cares about you.”

“Really?”

“You’d be surprised,” Reggie said as the waiter came back and set her pie down before leaving again. Reggie picked up her fork and started in on it before continuing, “I mean, they say family is supposed to be the one constant you can always count on, but wow, you really don’t know just how everything comes with an asterisk attached to it. The Asterisk Effect is astounding.”

“The Asterisk Effect?” Sandy asked, continuing eating her sandwich.

“It’s something I came up with with my therapist,” Reggie said, slicing another piece of pie, “It’s like when you go to buy a car, you know, or you sign up for a website, and they have that long list of terms and conditions, and then there’s a whole section at the bottom in fine print because something above had an asterisk next to it, you know? It’s what really matters regarding this contract. The dirty part that everyone tries to sweep under the rug. Everything is affected by The Asterisk Effect. Your family will always love and support you, so long as you don’t become an inconvenience. That sort of thing.”

“I guess I never really thought about it like that before…” Sandy said, mumbling.

“So I guess the thing you really have to do when you look at your life, the things and the people in it, is are they affected by The Asterisk Effect? You care about Derek, but is there a caveat? Is there fine print?” Reggie asked, eating some of her pie crust.

Sandy leaned back in her seat and folded her arms, thinking long and hard about the last few months with her and Derek. Thinking about what they’d said, done, how they’d interacted between themselves and around others. After a few moments, she smiled as Reggie put her fork down and wiped her face on her napkin.

“What?” Reggie asked.

“There isn’t any fine print,” Sandy said, “There’s no Asterisk Effect. In fact, my relationship with Derek is probably the one thing in my life that isn’t affected by that. We’re so open, we talk about everything, we hold nothing back, so there’s nothing to be brought down by it. No. There’s no caveat.”

“Well,” Reggie said, “There ya go.”

Sandy smiled, looking up at Reggie now, feeling better than she had in weeks. After lunch, the girls shopped for a bit before going their own ways. They made plans to meet again in a few weeks and Sandy told her that if she needed any help, being driven to appointments or anything, to call her. When Sandy got into her car, she thought about Derek, and started driving to his part time job he’d recently picked up, doing photo editing in a darkroom downtown. Sandy got there in scant minutes, got into the building, and found the darkroom, which she entered without a second thought. Derek turned to face her.

“Hey, be careful, any light could-” he started before she interrupted him.

“I need to ask you something,” she said, “Is there any fine print between us? Is there…is there anything that would ever make you change how you feel towards me, or about me, or us in general?”

“I mean, if you tried to kill me or something that might sour the deal, but otherwise, not really,” Derek said.

Sandy waited a second, took her hands off her hips and locked the door, and approached Derek, pushing her lips against his.

Hey. I’m Maggie. Did you like this thing I made? Then you might like some other things I make, like my depressing space webcomic, “In Space, No One Can Hear You Cry”, or my new site “Sad Party”, where I encourage others to share how low they feel so others feel better. You can also donate to my SquareCash. Thanks and enjoy!

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