The first thing I needed to do was separate the puzzle into colors. That took quite a bit of time, turning over each piece and organizing them. I had no idea if any of the colored pieces matched with each other but I had to start somewhere. For example, by the time I had finished, there was a large pile of annoying blue pieces which I figured was the both the water and the sky. It was going to be difficult to figure out which was which and what went where.
The second action I took, was finding all of the frame pieces. Once I had a frame, I’d have a base and would be one step closer to finishing what I considered a waste of time.
But I wanted to prove my dad wrong.
And equally, I wanted to get out of yard work.
It was 11:55 on my cell, when Sam called me. I’d been working on the puzzle for a little over an hour and the frame was finished.
“Hey,” I answered.
“Man, you sound just as plain when you answer the phone,” was Sam’s response. I rolled my eyes. I’d known Sam for about a year and half now, and if my prediction was correct and he had his way, we’d continue to be friends at least until we parted lives at graduation.
He was a good friend though. Loud, for me. But a good friend.
“Your name shows up on my phone…” when he didn’t reply, I continued, “So I knew who it was.”
I heard laughter on the other end, an amused laugh.
“Hey, we should do something today. Let’s walk the beach, get some ice cream, go see a movie or something.”
I had known Sam was going to ask me to hang with him. It was usually the reason he called on Saturday mornings. I knew he had other friends and activities, but when those options weren’t available and he was bored I was his backup plan. I understood that as Sam did – and it was a relationship I was perfectly okay with. Not being called often was relaxing, since I usually preferred spending my day quietly. Not only that, but if Sam did call me and I wasn’t interested, I just didn’t pick up.
Either way, I had nothing going on today and I didn’t mind the idea of ice cream.
It was better than working on a puzzle.
“Are you… asking me out on a date?” I questioned instead.
For a long moment there was no response on the other line and I wondered if he heard or if the signal had been cut. Finally Sam responded.
“Did you just make a joke?” he asked in a dumbfounded tone. “I don’t think you’ve ever joked with me before.”
Had I never?
“I’m not gay, just saying.” I told him in a dead paned voice.
“I mean, ever! This is shocking! Do you want to hang out or not man, I’m bored out of my mind…”
I paused and thought about my response before answering. I had already known I was going to say yes. Still, I wanted to emphasize something.
“Yeah, I’ll meet up with you at the mall. I’m bored too.”
Another moment of silence before Sam said, “Wow, really?”
I stood in front of the mall entrance for about five minutes. Nothing happened while I waited. The clouds were full and white, blocking the sun but not full enough to pour rain. Being October, it was still very warm outside.
Then I got hungry, and walked inside to the McDonalds for a Big Mac. A couple extra bucks got me the large fry and Coke, which doesn’t sit well with me. I preferred Pepsi. There wasn’t a large variety of options in our mall’s food court, only the traditional fast food restaurants that presumably resided in most. Subway, McDonalds, a Five-Guys for the people with money who still wanted a hamburger, and two Asian cuisines. I didn’t feel like getting a sub and wanted a burger, so I went with McDonalds and ate.
Pouring ketchup on the Burger sleeve – if that’s the right word, I dipped my fries in one at a time. A kid my age who I didn’t recognize, mopped to my right. Pimply faced with black hair, his expression said, “God I’d rather be anywhere else than here.”
Made me grateful I didn’t have my summer job at Starbucks any more.
I glanced up as a placed another fry in my mouth and paused. Sam stood outside the large glass wall among the people walking through the various stores. The polaroid camera he held fully concealed his face, but I could practically imagine his wide smile, teeth showing proudly, behind it. The lens was directed at the McDonalds.
Before I could decide whether to continue staring blankly, turn away and ignore him or frown, I felt a blotch of ketchup drip down my finger that was still holding the fry. I glanced down at it –
And that’s when Sam snapped the shot.
“I call it,” Sam paused in thought, seemingly waiting for inspiration to hit him. I didn’t look his way and continued staring down the endless clothing stores in front of us.
He held the photo up to his eyes and exclaimed a little too loudly.
“Usual?” I asked.
“Yep. Check out the people in that photo,” he explained. The snap shot was clear enough, a photograph of a McDonalds restaurant. The featured object, being myself, sitting directly in the middle of the dining room looking down at his tray, a woman and her child eating in the far left corner, a boy mopping up a spilled beverage, and in the back ground a worker behind the order station looking at her phone. Besides those highlights, the rest of the photo was a mishmash of red, yellow and white decoration.
“You see this sort of thing every day, and we all eat in places like this all the time, where nothing happens. ‘Usual’. Or, maybe I should call it, ‘As Usual’.”
I shook my head. “Well if it’s boring, then shouldn’t you throw it away?”
“No, this sort of moment doesn’t get captured enough. This picture,” he rose up the photo with his two fingers and showed it to me. “Is art- no, a masterpiece,” he finished proudly.
“You have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“That’s true,” he grinned. “Yeah it sucks. But you looked sort of cool in it. Mysterious and thoughtful, as always. So,” he shrugged. “It’s a keepsake.”
“I’m always thoughtful?” I asked, somewhat surprised. I didn’t think I came across that way.
“Well…” he frowned in thought. “More like, you always look like you’re daydreaming about something.”
I was pretty sure that wasn’t true either. I wasn’t thinking deeply about things, and I didn’t day dream. So what did I look like then?
“Hey speaking of daydreams, Lace said she couldn’t make it. Sorry bro.” Quickly, Sam pulled out his phone to check his messages, as if the girl might have sent him a text with a change of mind. Then again, he was probably just checking his phone by habit, since Lace didn’t own a cell phone. Or at least, she didn’t last I saw her.
I glanced at Sam but didn’t say anything. Lace Brown was a friend of ours we met a couple months ago. She was a fun girl, joyful to be around, pretty and smart. Not too loud and not too quiet, and often accompanied us on these outings. Unfortunately, she had started to distance herself from us due to personal problems – and I, not able to help or fully understand her, was allowing it.
That reminder left a familiar feeling of regret.
But that was another story I wasn’t going to recall right now. I was spending time with Sam.
Who I also didn’t hang out with too often, but that was by choice and he took no offence by it. Sam was the kind of person who would come over a friend’s house every day if he could. Myself? A once a week kind of guy. That was just the way I was, and I couldn’t really explain why. At least he was good with it, even if he didn’t understand it either.
“It’s alright,” I said. “Next time maybe.”
What followed was small talk about school, walking into the music store to find new CDs – Sam was interested in a band called the Revivalists – and then the small book store called Bookends. This was my favorite store in the mall, as their prices were generally cheaper than Barnes and Noble or BAM. I didn’t pick anything out, but I strolled for a time and searched for something new.
Finally, after an hour and a half of our time, we led ourselves back outside where began to walk to Sam’s house. He had a new video game he wanted to show me and said it’d be fun. As we walked back, I sent my dad a text message asking if I could be picked up from work on his way home.
How’s the puzzle coming along?
That was his response to which I groaned. Of course, still needed to work on that.
“What’s up? Dad’s working late?” Sam asked, fidgeting with the settings on his camera.
“No, he wants me to work on our puzzle.” Distractedly I text him back and gave him details on my progress.
“Oh yeah, he got one for me and I need to do it,” I absentmindedly responded. It was difficult to come up with some sort of message that would amuse my father and reassure him that I would complete his pointless project while still conveying that I didn’t want to complete it.
“Why?” Sam asked, and it was finally then that I realized he had no idea what I meant.
“I’ll tell you later, it’s a long story,” I shook my head. “Dad’s trying to get me into a new hobby.”
Not able to come up with anything clever, I simply responded: Working on it. Hanging with Sam right now.
“That’s good, I think you need some new hobbies,” Sam told me. “Or any hobbies actually.”
“I do have hobbies,” I replied in an annoyed tone.
“Yeah alright, well you still need some more. You should try surfing or something.”
“I’ll see if I like it,” I lied, not sure of when I’ll be able to get a surfboard and have someone teach me.
“Well, as long as you find something you love,” he responded, looking down at the camera around his neck.
“How about you,” I dodged instead. With honesty I wanted to know, “How did you get into photography?”
Sam reached for his camera and pulled it up in front of his face, studying it. It was a good model and expensive. I remembered the day Sam brought it to school and showed it to me, though I wasn’t as close to him back then. He had saved up a lot of allowance money for it and even after a year it still looked good as new.
The first picture he had taken with it, he told me, was his room.
My friend stared at it for a long moment, before frowning.
“I don’t – I’m not sure why,” Sam responded, and seemed perplexed by his own answer. He couldn’t come up with an explanation, and couldn’t recall when he started taking pictures. Years ago, he was sure. He told me he was sorry. I didn’t mind or anything.
After that, I explained why my father had pulled out the puzzle for me. It was a more interesting subject of conversation. We both were already overly familiar with what we did in our spare time.
I thought that was odd. It wasn’t supposed to be a hard question to answer.