The party was like an anesthetic for Malika. The conversations, laughter, and company did not heal any of the emotional pain. The anxiety, sadness, and frustration was only temporarily-- if even mercifully-- numbed throughout the evening. The situation was always there at the furthest back of her mind regardless of how much she enjoyed the night. And she occasionally imagined she could especially feel the weight of the phone. A cold, hard lump belying much deeper issues but yet to be diagnosed.
As the hours pass the guests trickles away from the loft until only Malika, Amanda, and Jason remain sitting around the living room. They converse like old times. The three talking about everything except the most obvious and glaring issue.
This leaves Malika in an awkward place of feeling grateful and uncomfortable. She is grateful because she does not want to spend all evening talking about Patrick. But she is uncomfortable because she is uncertain if both her friends are avoiding the topic for her benefit or because they are both sick to death of dealing with it. Maybe she was becoming a burden.
“Holy hell,” Jason says with some surprise after checking the time on his phone. “Time really got away from me. I have to be up in like 6 hours.”
“That makes the two of us.” Amanda replies through a yawn.
Jason stands from the sofa and stretches for several moments. He picks up his coat but does not immediately begin to leave. He awkwardly glances between Amanda and Malika seeming to consider something.
“Hey,” Jason begins carefully as he looks to Malika. “Are you going to be alright, Lika?”
“Yeah, yeah.” Malika responds quickly. Too quickly. His hesitation to leave and expression makes it clear he is concerned. She smiles as best she can at him. She does not want to be a burden. “I'll be alright.”
“Are you sure?” Jason ask once more. “Amanda is okay with me crashing on the couch tonight-- I mean, if you are feeling unsafe-- I'll be happy to stay.”
“That's sweet of you,” Malika begins despite secretly considering it. “But I'll be alright, Jason. You need your sleep. It's just a stupid man-baby tantrum. It's going to be alright.”
“Ok.” Jason nods despite obviously remaining uncertain. “I mean, if you're sure, and all...”
“If something comes up, I promise I will call.” Malika offers.
Malika and Jason exchange a brief hug. Then he and Amanda do the same before the three of them move to the front door.
“Good night, you two. I'll catch you both this weekend.” Jason says over his shoulder as he pulls open the front door.
“Let us walk you out,” Amanda pulls the door open further so she and Malika can follow after him. “I mean, its the least we can do after you've come all this way.”
“You make it sound like I had to catch a flight here. Its about an hour drive at most.” Jason laughs incredulously as he steps out into the dimly lit hallway with them.
“But I really appreciate it all the same.” Amanda adds.
While walking down the hallway, Malika and Amanda exchange a knowing look, their smiles becoming conspiratorial. At the first flight of stairs, Malika strolls pass Jason, turns to face him, and begins walking backwards down the steps.
“So,” Malika begins curiously.
“Oh my god! Please don't do that!” Amanda quickly interjects as she motions to the steps.
“Do what?” Malika ask while continuing to walk backwards.
“That!” Amanda's tone grows more alarmed as she points an accusing finger. “That! That shit right there! Can you not! Please, just walk like a normal person down the steps.”
“Hm?” Malika inquires innocently but continues on.
“Stop! Seriously, I'm afraid you'll slip.” Amanda insist more nervously.
“Not to mention they are also still a little damp from earlier today.” Jason notices after looking the area over.
“I'll be fine. You worry way--” Malika upper body lurches backwards, she gasps in surprise, and her arms to flail wildly in an attempt to grab a hold of something. Jason and Amanda are just reacting when she abruptly laughs, revealing the ruse, then begins walking straight once more.
“You are such an ass. That isn't funny.” Amanda laughs despite her previous statement.
“So, before I was so rudely interrupted,” Malika begins again as she turns her attention back to Jason. “I noticed you and Jasmine were chatting quite a bit through most of the evening.”
“Oh, yeah.” Jason nods. “We talked about a lot of stuff. She's pretty cool. Really funny, down to earth, really easy to talk to.”
“So?” Amanda glances over at Jason with a more playful tone as they begin descending the steps leading towards the building's exit.
“So?” Jason ask curiously.
“Did the two of you maybe talk about anything else?” Malika inquires hopefully.
“Like what?” Jason ask with obvious confusion. “I mean, we talked about all sorts of stuff. Music, movies, work, books.”
“Like, oh, I dunno,” Amanda pushes open the door leading to the streets. “I was curious to know if maybe the two of you made plans to hang out later.”
Amanda and Jason walk out first with Malika following them. The cars, buildings, and trees are still visibly damp beneath the yellowish glow of the many street lights. The asphalt and sidewalks appear glossy. The sky is clear now and its dreadfully cold. Their breathes immediately steam on the air.
Malika takes in a deep breath. Its been several days since she last left the townhouse. It feels good to be outside. She considers asking Amanda to go out for breakfast tomorrow. She folds her arms about herself and wishes she was wearing more than her maroon cocktail dress, and the black sneakers she changed into. She turns her attention back to the conversation and moves to catch with them on the sidewalk.
“You think so?” Jason ask in disbelief.
“You're kidding, right?” Amanda replies with an equal level of skepticism.
Jason does not immediately respond as he appears to seriously ponder what he has just been told. He looks more suspiciously at Amanda causing Malika to begin laughing. “No. Wait. Like, seriously? You're not just bullshitting me?”
“Oh my god! I told you this would happen!” Malika's says to Amanda as she snorts with increased laughter.
“Oh come on, dude! She was practically throwing herself at you! Didn't you notice the way she laughed at literally every joke you made?” Amanda turns to Jason.
“Or maybe I'm just hilarious.” Jason's appears to stand a little taller with this declaration.
“Or,” Malika begins as she looks him over in continued disbelief. “or, there are two very distinct possibilities here. The first being Jasmine is new to our planet, has never heard jokes before, and yours are the absolute first.”
Jason dramatically touches his chest in a wounded matter. “I am going to step right over that hurtful comment and let you continue, Lika.”
“Or she was super into you!” Malika explains.
“She was literally blasting your dense self with flirt lasers all night!” Amanda adds.
“I told you this would happen.” Malika reminds Amanda once more.
“I know.” Amanda throws up her hands.
“But no. You sent poor Jasmine over acting all Flirty McFlirtyson, instead of just telling the poor girl to ask him out.” Malika admonishes.
“Oh damn. How did I miss all that?” Jason mutters aloud.
“I don't know.” Amanda says with sugary sympathy. She then looks over, reaches up and pinches his cheek. “I just don't know, my sweet, sweet summer child. But what's important is we are here to protect you.”
Jason swats her hand away causing Malika to laugh. “I kept waiting for the right moment, you know? Like, I didn't know how to ask her what her situation was.” He pleads his case while looking between them. “I couldn't find the right moment.”
“Thankfully,” Malika begins matter-of-factually as she takes out her phone and turns it on. “I asked Jasmine, that if Ms. Cosmo's over here,” She motions to Amanda who cuts her eyes at her in response. “advice didn't pan out, if it would be alright to give you her number.”
Malika shifts through her menus, she ignores any and all the unanswered messages from the different numbers Patrick has been using to text her, while reminding herself to delete them all later. The anesthetic left over from the party is wearing off a little now. The hints of that deep ache creeps back even as she searches for Jasmine's contact info.
“I just figured with Amanda, over here, being so vague,” Malika motions to Jason without looking up from her screen. “and you over there being so dense, one of us had to act in order to save the day! But don't thank me. Though, I am a superhero, I am also modest.”
She laughs at her own joke then glances up to ask him if he wants her number. But to Malika's surprise both Jason and Amanda stare daggers into her. She is so startled by the sudden change of atmosphere it causes her to unconsciously lower her phone while anxiously searching their now harden expressions with her eyes.
“Guys,” Malika begins with nervous confusion that makes her voice small. “I was only joking. You know that, right?”
“Malika,” Amanda responds with a low, firm voice now devoid of all humor or warmth.
Malika is still confused as to what she has done to ruin the night. An internal panic is beginning as she searches the conversation. It is only a few moments into her building anxiety does she realize both her friends are looking through her. They are looking behind her. It dawns on her that Amanda was not attempting to rebuke her for something. She was trying to get her attention.
Malika turns to follow their cold stares. She is not relieved to realize they were not meant for her. The painkillers of laughter and good company are completely gone now. The hurt, anxiety, and anger floods back in now like an internal organ being ruptured.
She stares Patrick in the face.