News: For those of you who’ve been following my stories on Amazon and giving me dollars for them, I thank you. In early 2015, I plan to release a collection of all the short stories I’ve published in 2014 and 2013 respectively , so if this is your first story and you like what you read, or you’ve been reading since the government shutdown, they are all coming in one convenient book. Be on the look out. My first novel is also reaching completion, so stay tuned. For now, here is my next story in it’s entirety. For my kindle readers click here.
“Furniture n’ in the Box,” Jeff said with a half-smirk.
“It’s not Furniture n’ the Box,” Stacy retorted. “It’s only the best store ever invented.”
“The 99 cent breakfast is only there to get you in the store.”
“Oh come on! You are the only person in the world who can fault a 99 cent breakfast.”
“It’s a gimmick. They give you breakfast, and you walk away with a box of furniture you have to assemble yourself.”
Stacy rolled her eyes and walked into a display apartment. Jeff passed a sign that read 497 square feet with some garbage about how there was room to entertain and live. Stacy walked up to a bed, wardrobe, and cabinet unit with a plethora of drawers and spread her hands out. “Storage! Look at all the storage,” Stacy said triumphantly as if she won the argument.
Her piercing blue eyes and green hipster skirt caught Jeff’s attention more than the storage. He adjusted his glasses like he often did around her to cover for the times when he was noticing her beauty. Even though Jeff and Stacy had known each other since grade school, she never thought about him like he thought about her.
“Sure, but what are the chances of me finding an apartment with exactly the same layout?” Jeff said determined not to give her the win. Stacy rolled her eyes and spun towards the bathroom. Jeff fixed his button up shirt and followed her into the fake apartment. His skinny awkward gate stumbled after her grace. They entered the display bathroom where she turned the knobs on the sink. “They aren’t hooked up. This is a store display.”
“Do you know how to tell when you really want something?”
“When you can’t stop touching it,” she smiled and walked into the kitchen.
The last part hurt. In all their years, she had never touched him. They talked all the time. He listened when she would tell him about some asshole she met in college. She talked to him about intellectual subjects she would never utter around a boyfriend. She shared every part of her life with him, expect what Jeff assumed was the most important part. He didn’t bother to look at the kitchen. He went right to the display sofa and plopped down next to a boy waiting for his mom.
The kid glanced at Stacy and then back at Jeff. Then he looked to his mom and then Stacy. Both were engrossed in looking at all the details of furniture they would never buy.
“Women!” The kid said and nudged Jeff.
Jeff gave the kid an “I’m an adult who’s not paying attention to you look” and mumbled a response. The child got bored with Jeff and left him to brood. The boy played with a cardboard box with a TV printed on the front, and his mom swept him away before he began poking holes in the box. After an awkward moment where Jeff pretended to read the Swedish books from the display bookshelf, Stacy got her kitchen fix and joined Jeff on the couch. He didn’t look up from the book.
“I didn’t know you could read Swedish,” Stacy said.
“There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me!” Jeff snapped. Stacy backed away, and Jeff felt like an ass. Jeff put the book down and walked toward the showroom floor, but there was a problem with the showroom floor. It wasn’t there. Where there should have been a missing fourth wall and shoppers wandering past was just a normal apartment wall. Jeff spun around to look at Stacy.
“Where’s the showroom?” Jeff said.
“There’s an entrance in the bedroom,” Stacy said, annoyed.
“No… wasn’t there an entrance here?”
“It doesn’t look like it. Is everything ok?”
“No, I mean, I saw a mom and her son walk into the showroom from right here. Right here! Through this wall.”
“You are starting to worry me Jeff.”
“Didn’t you see anything?”
“I was in the kitchen.”
Jeff knocked on the wall. It seemed solid enough.
“Hey, look. 99 cent breakfast was a stupid idea. Let’s go,” Stacy said.
“I’m not crazy…”
“I believe you. But wouldn’t the best way to come out be the way we came in?”
Jeff charged past her. She grimaced and followed him into the bedroom. There were four walls.
“What’s going on Jeff?” Stacy asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Where’s the showroom?”
“I don’t know!”
“It’s got to be here somewhere. Maybe there was a secret door.”
“It’s a showroom! They want you to wander inside. What’s the point if they hide the entrance in a secret door?”
“We got in! There is obviously a way out!”
“You are so optimistic that you don’t pay attention to reality.”
“Don’t start with your stick-in-the-mud crap now.”
“Is that what you think of me?”
“Sometimes, you are so negative all the time. Why can’t it just be cool furniture that you can have fun assembling yourself?”
“Sounds like work not fun.”
“Enough! Let’s bang on the walls. Maybe an employee shut the display, and didn’t realize we were inside.”
Jeff nodded and they banged on the walls and screamed for help with periodic breathers to listen for a response, but none came. They tried getting cell phone reception, and there was no service no matter where they walked in the apartment. Even though they were cut off, Jeff couldn’t let the stick-in-the-mud comment slide from his mind. He always thought he was really fun. His humor may be a little sarcastic, but he was only playing around.
“I don’t dislike the furniture here or the 99 cents breakfast. I was playing around.”
“That’s a double negative.”
“I like the furniture and the breakfast here, but-”
“See, that’s my point. I don’t care that you used a double negative! I flunked English three times in college. You got to lighten up.”
“I do lighten up… I’m a very humorous man.”
“Humorous men don’t use the word humorous.”
Jeff opened his mouth in response but then turned to the apartment. It didn’t matter what he said now. She would default to her premise that fun men didn’t need to call themselves fun. Jeff thought he was plenty fun. He always complained, but it was an entertaining sort of complaining. He was peeling back a layer of society, but she didn’t seem to get that.
“I don’t think anyone is coming,” he said after they even tried banging on the kitchen walls.
“Do you think we are still in the store?” Stacy said.
“How could we not be? This is the display room.”
“We could have teleported!”
“To an apartment that looks like the display?”
“Maybe that’s how they move the furniture?”
“If you can teleport objects, why would buy them in a box and assemble them?”
“Perhaps you need a big expensive machine in two locations. Maybe there is a factory in Norway or Sweden wherever this company is from that teleports the latest creations from the furniture lab direct to the stories, designers to shelf.”
“If you had a machine that could teleport, would you use it to sell box furniture? I could rule the world. I could transport soldiers, tanks, and weapons, just about anything, anywhere in the world.”
“There. Stick-in-the-mud. You always go to the worst possible scenario. Why not space or deep sea exploration? Replacing airplanes and cars with teleporting stations?”
“I’m only being realistic.”
“More like pessimistic.”
“Hey! You want pessimism. We are stuck in some display case, with no running water. We are going to have to live with the smell of our own shit if they don’t get us out soon.”
For emphasis, Jeff struck the hot water knob on the kitchen sink. Water sprayed out of the faucet. Their argument grinded to a halt as they both looked at the running water.
“What the hell is going on?” Stacy sounded like she was about to choke. She sat down on the couch and lost all the color from her cheeks. Jeff grabbed his hair and began to pace. He shut off the faucet and turned it back on.
“I don’t know….” Jeff said and went through the apartment. He turned on the shower. The water flowed from the spout. Lights flicked on and off. The oven preheated. Everything seemed functional. Even the televisions and computers were no longer cardboard boxes with TV’s and electronics printed on the front. Everything was functional and real. The apartment was livable in every way. There were clothes in the wardrobe. There was food in the pantry. The TV could even go through channels.
“Did you try the computer?” Jeff said as he poked at what use to be a laptop cardboard cutout.
“Of course,” Stacy said and Jeff continued to type anyway. “What?”
“What do you mean what?” Jeff said as he tried a browser window.
“Is it cause I’m a girl? You think I don’t know how to use a computer?”
“No,” Jeff said as he continued to type. “Maybe I’ll try something you didn’t.”
“It’s not connected to a network. It’s getting no signal.”
“Maybe you need to repair the network settings?”
“Do you think I didn’t try that?”
“I’m only trying to get us out of here.”
“I am too! Maybe you should trust me once in a while.”
“I do trust you.”
“No, you don’t. Every time we go anywhere, there is always some negative comment about what I’m doing or who I’m dating or something.”
“I’m only telling you the truth.”
“Fine, the truth is good. But why not talk about positive subjects once in a while. Like, Stacy, you nailed that Math test you were worried about. Or, your team did well! Did you enjoy the game?”
“But I don’t like sports.”
“It doesn’t matter if you like sports. It matters that I like sports, and you like me.”
And her words hung in the air. She knew that he liked her. She knew, but she didn’t do anything about it, and then Jeff understood. The problem with their relationship wasn’t that she didn’t do anything to further it. It was that he never bothered to change it. Jeff didn’t even know her favorite sport’s team. He had known her his entire life, and never knew what team she liked.
Jeff tossed the computer to the side. He turned to Stacy and saw the Swedish book on the coffee table. He picked up the book and thumbed through it. Its spine was new and taut. The spine cracked and the pages smelled fresh. He never read a word in the book. He didn’t even know what it was about.
Stacy sat down next to him on the couch, and they talked. They didn’t feel the passage of time as they spoke for hours. Jeff never had a deep conversation with Stacy before. They were errand friends. They would go out together when Stacy needed a new table or wanted go to the post office. Then she would drop him off in his duplex in the city. It was like their childhood. Jeff would see her at gymnastics, community meetings, or some adult party, but then they would go on with their separate lives. Now their time together didn’t have an expiration date. They were so engrossed in conversation that they didn’t realize that the errand could end. There was no wall. They were on a couch in a display apartment with a cardboard TV.