By noah rigby
He had a problem with lying. He knew it, and everyone else probably did, too. He never tried to hide this from anyone, except for when he lied about it. Sometimes he'd say he had an underlying problem. A mental disorder, a messed-up childhood, a trauma too scarring to talk about; anything to get a new reaction, and all of them had some sort of truth to them. He'd usually get away with it, and sometimes he'd even start to believe it, himself. He must have a problem, right? There had to be a reason why the truth was so hard to say. but there wasn't.
     It was just fun.
     Jack was on his fourth date of the week while his boyfriend of two years, Max, lounged away at home, having just got off from his overtime shift at the office. Jack never cared about the comings and goings of realty lawyers, except for the fact that Max was able to snag them a nice flat in Pittsburgh for cheap. Max texted him as he drove into the diner's parking lot, asking him where he was.
     Just getting a drink. Get some sleep- I'll wake you up when I get home.
     There, easy. Nothing to it.
     Now, he had no real interest in cheating on his boyfriend. It wasn't like he was unhappy or anything. In fact, Mac was probably the best guy he'd fucked in years, always came after a couple of good rounds on Jack's part, and wasn't a cuddler, but after a while, he started to get bored. It was the same thing every night, and what was he supposed to do with that? Nothing fun was going to come with doing the same thing again and again. Jack remembered reading some article on BuzzFeed saying that only crazy people do the same thing over and over again expecting different results, and he wasn't about to be one of those people. He was reaching his early thirties- he couldn't afford to go crazy yet. 
     Dating was simply his new obsession.
     With cheating it was always different. A movie tavern in Greensburg with John or Joel or whomever, a bowling alley in New Kensington with that guy he saw at the grocery store, and tonight, a diner in the far more rural Delmont with someone he met on some hook-up app. The guy he was supposed to meet up with was good-looking enough, he supposed, in a gay lumberjack kind of way. A little buff, a little chubby around the edges, a beard, and hair just long enough to pull if he got too boring. Nothing he's been with before. A shiny new number. Perfect for a short night. 
     He slammed the door of his rental convertible shut as he checked his phone to see if “Brian” was there yet. Brian. Not the nicest name in the world, but at least it wasn’t Dan. He’d been with so many Dans eventually he just started introducing himself as Dan to freak the guys out. His notifications read that Brian grabbed a seat somewhere in the back. He wondered for a second how much space a guy so big would take up, and if people would stare. Jack wasn’t a giant fan of the attention that might bring, but he’d been out of work and the social scene for months, and no one he knew lived nearby, so it was unlikely anyone would snitch to Max. Not that it would be a bad thing necessarily, Max was too trusting to believe he’d cheat, but he wasn’t about to risk it. Max was the nosey type.
     As expected for a Friday night, there were few people in the joint, so the lumberjack was hard to miss. An old couple there, some rurly teens here, a woman taking orders with an unusual amount of pep from people who responded in the usual amount of disinterest. Nothing out of the ordinary for an eight o’clock dinner. Brian’s fingers were anxiously drumming along the Lazy Susan he was seated at in the corner, his lip swollen from prominent biting.
     He looked better in his photos.
     Jack announced his presence by placing his hand that showcased the expensive watch he nabbed from his ex-boss down on the table in Brian’s line of sight. Brian startled slightly, shoulders lurching forwards, grotesquely large Adam's apple bobbing. His visible anxiety melted a bit once meeting Jack’s eyes. The last guy did the same thing.
     “Josh?” Brian asked in a way of greeting, voice mildly grating in its bass, worried lip disappearing in an open-mouthed smile. He reached his hand out to shake, and Jack obliged after a second’s hesitance, offering back his widest grin.
     “Jack,” he corrected, sliding into the chair directly across from him, careful not to touch the mysterious sticky substance on the side of the plastic number, and ignoring the faint buzz in his jeans’ pocket. Max was probably asking where his favorite pair of jeans went. Max’s wardrobe was leagues nicer than his and he was getting low on cash, so dipping into his closet was becoming routine. His recent impulses to splurge to impress were quickly eating at his savings, since his journalism career hit rock bottom once he was fired. Improvisation was unavoidable. Jack ignored the text in favor of placing the rental keys on the table and leaning forward slightly, fingering the convertible’s automatic opener with the brand's logo so it caught the light. “I’m sorry for not telling you earlier. I use a fake name on these apps. Ya
know, privacy and all that. I should’ve cleared this all up when we decided to go out.”
     Brian nodded eagerly in response, as if it was something that happened to him often.
     “Oh yeah, man. I totally get it. No worries.” He smelled like cat piss and pine trees. “How was the trip here? Not far, right?”
     Jack shrugged, turning his attention to the mini juke-box bolted to the wall at their table, eyes flickering over the poor selection. While deciding on a song he’d never heard
before and sliding a quarter in, he noted the way Brian’s eyes glued themselves to the convertible’s keys.
     “It was fine. A bit chilly, though.”
     "Oh," was Brian's response. He vaguely remembered Brian's profile stating that he was a big luxury car guy. Renting something expensive for a guy he probably wouldn't even spend the night with something he'd admitted wasn't his best idea, but it was nice to watch the guy squirm at the recognition of the car's brand. At least he'd get a fuck out of it. "Not too far, right, man?"
     "You already asked that," Jack told him.
     "Sorry, man. Must've spaced out for a second."
     "Am I that boring?" ,man?
     His phone buzzed again. He ignored it as Brian's face started to blush, and the music that he put on finally started to play. It was a bit abrasive for his taste, but it was manageable. He was hard to annoy.
     "No, no, no, no. Of course not. First date jitters, I guess. mind starting over?"
     Three buzzes in a row. Bzz, bzz, bzz.
     The woman with the big hair coughed explosively over someone's food.
     If Brian hadn't noticed the first two notifications, he definitely caught the last round. His bushy eyebrows came together in a way that reminded Jack of those annoying caterpillars that catapulted themselves into the way of bikers or distracted passerby, only to be quickly squashed. Brian nodded towards him.
     "Popular guy?"
     His breath was worse than his general smell.
     "Of course."
     Jack scrounged around his pocket for a second, two, before pulling out his phone and checking his messages under the table, away from wandering eyes. His five-year-old phone didn't really match the persona he was going for that night.
     You're out drinking?
     You know you can't drink on your meds.
     You're gonna run out of unemployment soon.
     Are you okay?
     Call me.
     jack rolled his eyes and pocketed the device. That particular genre of text, the controlling and berating was nothing ew, but it got on his nerves nonetheless. Max always had to ?know.
     Turns out he was easy to annoy.
     His lie about drinking was a knee jerk. Easy as breathing. Sure, Max was intuitive and whatnot, but the fact that he was paying enough attention to catch him in his lie, for once, was both annoying and a possibility that hadn't occurred to him before sending out the text. Honestly, Jack wasn't planning to go drinking. he knew people like him and mood-altering substances did not mix, he wasn't dumb. The thought of heading out and downing a couple whiskey sours was only tempting because he knw Max would hate it. He managed to subdue the urge by looking to his date, who was smiling confusedly at him.
     "Anything interesting, Jack?"
     "I wish," he shrugged, placing the phone on his thigh rather than sliding it back into his jeans, the fact that they were Max's slithering back into the forefront of his mind. He didn't feel guilty about taking them, but the thought of Max as a whole when he was supposed to be having fun made him uncomfortable enough to remove his hands from the fabric. "Just some spam. Nothing important."
     "Oh, okay... so, how do we restart this conversation? Wanna go first?"
     A nasty twang of some instrument played from the jukebox. He could hear the slow click-clack of the waitress' heels as she moseyed her way towards them.
     Another buzz.
     Jack looked down.
     Come home.
     Fuck that.
     He was going to get a drink.
     Jack turned in his seat and scanned the restaurant, searching for anything that would try and stop him from breaking his sobriety. The waitress actually wasn't coming towards them after all, but rather to the bathroom, and despite the low density of people, very few stragglers had food. There was no way he was going to get anything good out of a diner he'd never heard of, plus he suddenly had an overwhelming urge to get drunk out of spite and never go home. Brian was still staring at him
     Jack leaned in as close as he could bear and put on his most coercive smile. he knew he was hot enough to convince the wooly mammoth to tag along with him no matter where they went. Plus, he had a nice car. Brian would probably be easier to stomach drunk.
     "You drive here?"
     Brian shook his head no.
     "Good. Pleasure to meet you, Brian. I'm Jack. Let's go get a drink."
     Jack pocketed his phone, collected the keys to his palm, and tossed them to Brian. Jack wouldn't have been surprised if the guy's eyes ended up falling out of his head with how quickly they darted from the keys to the Maserati starting up outside. Jack tilted his head.
     "Wanna go for a ride, pretty boy?"
     The twenty-minute drive to the closest bar was cut down to ten with how fast Brian drove, not counting the solid two minutes the guy took salivating over the car. Jack would've been itching to go, and would've left him altogether, but that was his first time seeing someone practically cum in their pants, and it was an interesting sight.
     Once they arrive, he took Brian's hand in his and led him to the first barstools he could find. The bartender was quick to serve them whatever they wanted when jack flashed his card, and Jack found Brian was easier to tolerate when drunk, ten times easier once he offered to pay for Brian's alcohol.
     After a few drinks, then a few more, a sloppy kisses in the bathroom, and a shot for good luck, he decided to leave the car where it was and call a cab. He found himself babbling about something or other during the ride and assumed Brian must've told the driver an address because soon, they were back in the biting air and stumbling towards a pair of stairs with bodies intertwined.
     Brian's body hitched against his.
     Jack faintly noticed the sensation of gravity becoming nonexistent for a moment. He was flying, the world turned on around him, and then he pavement below him was so, so close, and then his head began to blood. it took a couple of seconds for him to process that they tripped, fell, and that Brian used him as a cushion. It took a few more for the pain to set in.
     "Oh my god," the klutz slurred out, prying himself off of him and standing shakily from the ground, hands spread out for balance as if he were walking a tightrope. "I'm so sorry, I have no idea how that happened. My foot just caught- I'm sorry."
     "Fuck," Jack cursed loudly, pulling himself up from the side of the street to the curb, placing a hand against his throbbing head to steady himself. As if he went to comment on how the lucky bastard seemed to have gotten away without a scratch, his tooth caught on the split lip he hadn't noticed. Great. he couldn't call the night uninteresting.
     Through the fog building in his brain, Jack looked towards the person who called his name. Any persona he was trying to play along with tonight or new thing he wanted to experience, all came crumbling down around him as his boyfriend stood in their apartment's doorway, hair and clothes disheveled from sleep. The city blocks had seemed familiar as the cab toted them around, but he assumed it was just because Brian lived somewhere in Pittsburgh.
     Max's surprised face went pale. A flurry of emotions Jack could never even begin to describe flashed across his face in the few moments it took him to take the situation in, before a familiar look settled in place. Acceptance.
     As Jack shrugged off his particularly expensive jacket and brought it to his head to staunch the bleeding, Max shuffled from the apartment out onto the street and exchanged a few words with the lumberjack. Jack wanted to know what they were saying, but his head was becoming dizzier the more he tried to focus. Whether it was the alcohol or the more than probable concussion, he wasn't sure.
     He distantly noticed the caveman excusing himself, and within seconds he slumped fully against Max, wishing to fall asleep to both calm the aching in his head as well as the slowly but surely building guilt of bringing a date to his boyfriend's place. Upsettingly that wasn't the plan, because he was still begrudgingly awake as Max began to usher him upstairs into the apartment.
     Once they got through the doorway and headed towards the bathroom, Jack felt around for his apartment keys, then his wallet, his ID, his rental car keys. The tips of his fingers felt a bit numb, and he couldn't tell for sure if he was finding anything in his pockets. He wouldn't have been surprise if Brian nicked them on their way out of the bar, or even more conveniently during the fall. Sneaky bastard might have staged it all. Someone had taken his stuff before. He'd given people his stuff before. He'd figure it all out once he came down. 
     Max sat him dutifully down on the toilet seat and closed the door behind him, handing Jack a towel from the rack to hold to his face to stop the bleeding. Max wasn’t talking. Instead, he set about unearthing the first aid kit from under the sink. Jack watched him in silence, processing his recent change in setting and trying to figure out what Max was
thinking. Whatever it was, it didn’t look like it was coming up pro-Jack.
     After bustling around the bathroom for a couple of minutes, gathering ice from the kitchen and coming back, Max pressed a dampened towel that Jack usually used to shower
against his lip. Max refused to meet his eye. 
     “What? Is bloody not a sexy look on me?” he tried.
     Max rolled his eyes and finished wiping the blood off of Jack’s lip before tossing the towel into the laundry basket. Jack distantly processed the thud it made, landing heavily into the overflowing bin and wondered when the last time he did the laundry was. Probably not for a couple of weeks. Honestly he kind of just planned for Max to get sick of it stinking up the place and do it himself. He didn’t.
     “If you don’t wash it immediately it’s going to stain,” Jack prompted.
     “It’s not my towel,” was all that Max responded with, focusing his gaze onto Jack’s face after turning to make sure the projectile met its mark. Jack felt like he was being stared down, and he was, but not by Max. Max was simple to deal with— he wasn’t anything new. This, this was different. He felt like he was being stared down by doom— an embodiment, a figure, a looming shape preaching the end of the world and the beginning of the final days. It made a lump collect in his throat that he couldn’t swallow down, but it wasn’t bad. It was a sinking feeling which he could only embrace because the thought of doing anything else was
     It was more intoxicating than the alcohol.
     “When’s the last time you went to see your therapist?” Max asked flatly. All Jack could manage in his dizziness was to follow Max’s movement with his eyes, watching him reach into the drawer closest to the toilet and pull out a pack of alcohol wipes, a bottle of hydrogen peroxide, and some boxes of bandages. He tore the top off of the pack and used the first wipe to clean his hands of blood.
      “Tuesday, I saw her. It was her niece’s birthday so our session ended short. She showed me a picture of her. Real cute.”
     “Mn,” Max hummed. He tossed the used wipe on the bath mat and took out a new one. This one he brought to Jack’s forehead and kept it firmly pressed even when Jack flinched back in pain and let out an involuntary hiss, causing his stomach to churn. The last thing he needed at the moment was to throw up on Max. “When’s the last time you took your meds?”
     It took him longer than he expected to come up with an answer despite having crafted the lie the moment he flushed his last batch down the toilet.
     “Last night.”
     “Mn,” he hummed again. He changed out the wipe for another. “You’re really bad at lying, you know that?”
     He near fell off the toilet seat in his hurry to place his head in the bowl. Max, of course, stepped in immediately to help, and placed a firm hand on his back as all the alcohol came back up, setting his throat and nose and head on fire. As Max steadied him in his new kneeling position, and his body convulsed in its struggle to rid itself of everything it contained, Max continued to clean his wounds and Jack choked out a couple of words he didn’t believe.
     “What are you talking about?”
     “I found two empty bottles of Haloperidol and Divalproex in your cupboard. Both issued a couple of weeks ago. You should have them both nearly full.” He thought he hid them better than that. Thought he hid his behavior better than that which would set Max looking. He threw up some more. “Plus, you take your meds in the morning. It was Lithium you took at night. They took you off after you stopped showing up to work after your last episode.”
     He hated calling them episodes. He was bipolar, he wasn’t putting on a show.
     “Why’d you look?”
     Both of them knew. He heard rather than saw Max sit next to him on the ground.
     “Last time you went out every night was when we first started dating. Going out, spending a lot of money, barely sleeping. You were the definition of manic. So, I checked your cards. Saw you rented a car. We both know you’re too unfocused to drive when you’re taking your meds, so I assumed, apparently correctly, that you stopped.”
     In the first minute of silence Jack only breathed with his head in the toilet, trying to stop everything from coming up. In the second he batted Max’s hand away from his head, which retreated without contest. It took him five minutes to be sure he wasn’t going to throw up again and lower himself down across from Max, leaning against the bath for balance. Most of the time was spent looking for words— what words Max said, what words he should say back, whatever nonsense words were spiraling around his mind. He was supposed to be good with words, but he couldn't land on anything with substance. He knew he had to speak soon, though. He knew what a come down felt like, sliding from the manic to the depressive, and he was coming down hard.
     “What’s the point, Max?”
     More silence. The unpeeling of band-aids in preparation.
     “What’s the point of what?”
     “Everything? The shit they put me on just... mutes everything. I’m not happy, I’m not sad. Yeah I’m not manic or laying in bed for weeks but I’m practically a fucking zombie, you’ve seen it. All I do is sit here. I don’t exist. Nothing... interests me. Everything is nothing and I’m tired of nothing. I want something new.”
     Max sighed loudly, his breath echoing off of the cramped bathroom walls. Not dramatically, just tiredly, as if he was the one who had been up the past couple of days. He heard Max stand and turn the sink on, then begin to wash his hands. Jack forced himself to look up at him.
     “So, you cheated on me?”
     Looking up at him was the worst thing he could’ve done. Jack couldn’t remember the last time Max had looked at him like that. They got together during the period of time when Jack was still accepting that bipolar wasn’t just a word thrown around by tween boys when their girlfriends didn’t want to dry hump behind the bleachers, so Max had seen the worst of him, and to Jack’s surprise, stuck by him as Jack figured himself out. They learned to live day by day and give as much to the other person as possible without sacrificing themselves. Jack found out how to be happy with himself, and then happy with Max. They grew. Looking into
the inky black of his eyes now, he saw none of that growth. He felt none of the love.
     This wasn’t his mental illness or whatever the fuck—this was all Jack.
     “Why are you still with me?” he asked.
     Max turned the sink off, the harsh rushing of the water calming to a soft drip in the bowl. Some car screeched by outside. Jack pictured Brian in the rental, racing down back alleyways, tangled dark hair blowing in the wind as the terrible song from the diner blasted in the background. He pictured Max in the passenger seat, all of his stuff packed into the back, leaving Jack and their life together behind him in a trail of dust on the pavement. The breath Max slowly let out sounded like it was tearing his body to shreds. He hoped it didn’t hurt.
“I don’t know what you’d do to yourself if I wasn’t here.”
     He didn’t look back as he closed the door behind him. Jack threw up in the toilet.

Read Issue 18