Peach Parfait

By: Dale Pons L. Gregorio

The moment the front display flashed six A.M., the alarm clock‘s radio buzzed to life in the middle of an early nineties pop song.

Nick lay sprawled out on the floor in a haze of… well, something. He had spent last night watching old sitcoms and drinking vintage beer out of the stash at the back of the cupboard. When the Friends reruns ended and Seinfeld came on, he got up, turned the television off, lay on the floor, and wept. Now, it was six-thirty in the morning, and the faint sound of Backstreet Boys coming from his bedroom was enough to wake him up. Sleep had escaped him during his sitcom and sadness binge.

Rising to his feet, he shuffled to the bathroom and washed his face. His breakfast consisted of a can of room-temperature beans and tap water. He killed the alarm clock radio, and, opening his wardrobe, put on the first pair of jeans and shirt he saw before leaving his place.

Any student, no matter the age, would tell you that any class that required you to wake up at six in the morning is a class nobody would take. Nick was one of these ?any students‘. He would get up at six anyway even though all his classes were after nine.

The dormitory building was quiet. Thin doors meant that you could drop a television set on the floor and it would most certainly be audible from the outside. The ones that were awake—judging from the sound of gunshots and/or swearing coming from their room—had probably stayed up all night on gaming binges. They were common in this kind of environment.

Outside, the air was chilly. The sun was almost peeking over the horizon, painting the skies a blend of blue, pink, and orange. The dormitory building was just across the street from the main campus, both of their expanses of green standing contrast against the violet urban sprawl of the city the two were built in. Nick left the dorm premises and crossed the street, but instead of passing through the campus gates, he turned left and headed up a footbridge instead. His leather shoes clanked against the steel plating.

Facing the horizon, he lit a cigarette and smoked, resting his arms on the railing, watching the sun rise. This was his favorite part of waking up early. The sound of passing cars and the footsteps of pedestrians behind him; the view of the sun rising, shining rays of light through gaps in the skyline; the calmness found in the empty streets—it was worth the sleep deprivation, in his opinion. And, with the burning cigarette in between his fingers, he thought, for a moment, that maybe being alone wasn‘t so bad after all.

Why he wasn‘t already used to it he didn‘t know. He dragged on his cigarette and exhaled. The wisps of smoke danced in the air. A series of footsteps closed in on him.

?Aww, you took my favorite spot,? a young woman said, pouting.

Nick stared at her hazel eyes and overly casual attire before saying, ?I‘ve never seen you before.?

She placed her hands on her waist. ?Well I—I have, and I—I know you damn well enough to know that your spot—it's elsewhere!?

?What are you talking about? I come here every day.? ?Well, uh, so do I!?

Nick frowned. ?Since when??

She clenched her fists. ?Since… um… since last week!?

?No wonder.? He turned away from her and dragged on his cigarette.

?Hey! Don‘t ignore me!?

?I‘m not ignoring you. If you‘re gonna smoke, then smoke.? ?I don‘t smoke. It‘s bad for your health, y‘know.? ?Then what do you come here for??

?Why do you want to know??

?I come here to smoke. Alone. There, now you‘re obligated to tell me why you’re here.?

?Fine! I… come here to watch the sunrise.? She paused. ?Alone.? ?Is that it??

?Yeah.?

Nick made a dismissive noise, a ?humph‘ of sorts.

?I‘d rather appreciate the scenery without the lung cancer, thank you very much,? she said.

?Is that all you appreciate? The scenery??

?Well, what else is there to look at.?

?Not look at. The—? Nick stopped himself and let out a dismissive ?hmph‘.

The woman sighed and left, her wavy brown hair bending slightly in the breeze as she walked down the footbridge steps.

?Are you do—Oh.?

Somehow, he‘d forgotten that she was gone, even though she left only seconds ago.

The sun was beginning to set.

Eva closed the door to her apartment behind her and collapsed against it. Tossing her book bag across the floor, she sighed. She never really liked coming home because there was nobody there. At least in college, she could pretend she had company. Even the unintelligible noise of conversation was enough for her. She kicked her shoes off her feet.

She stood up, flipped the lights on, and retrieved a cup of parfait from the fridge.

It wasn‘t there before. There was a plastic spoon and a note taped to it.

From Dad, it read.

She tossed the note aside, letting it fall to the floor. Dad stopped by often, yet Eva never saw him. Not even a fleeting glance. Sitting on the sofa, she dug into the parfait, staring blankly into space. The peach was a bit bland, the cream was a touch too sweet—just like how Dad emulated how Mom used to make.

She set the empty cup down on the coffee table, and for a brief, quiet moment she thought she was crying.

She got up early again the following morning. The plastic cup was still sitting on her coffee table; she picked it up and tossed it in the trash.

Standing in the shower, the cold water running down her shivering body, she wondered if that guy was gonna be at the footbridge again. Maybe he wouldn‘t. Despite his statement that he was there every day, he wasn‘t there last week when she came to watch the sun rise.

She tied a jacket around her waist and put a pair denim shorts on and set off. The apartment complex was a five-minute walk away from campus. She‘d usually cut through a shopping district to save time, but the problem with this was that she‘d end up stepping into a store for a ?few minutes‘ and end up having to run to class just so she wouldn‘t be written down as late. Coming to the campus gates, she turned around and looked up. Lo and behold, there he was, arms folded on the railing with a cigarette in between his fingers just like yesterday.

Nick turned to her. ?You again??

?Yes, it‘s me again,? the woman said.

?Is this still your spot??

?You can have it.?

?Thanks.?

?It‘s nobody‘s spot, anyway. Just come here if you want to come here.? A car sped past the bridge.

?Why are you still here?? he asked.

She put her hands in her pockets. ?No reason.? ?Well then, can you… I dunno, not stay here??

?Do you like Seinfeld??

?I—? he glanced towards the horizon ?—actually, I do.? ?What do you think about George??

He took the cigarette out of his mouth with two fingers.?He‘s a dick.? ?Agreed.? Standing next to him, she rested her arms on the railing as he did.

?What‘s the deal with airplane food, anyway??

?Jerry doesn‘t actually say that in Seinfeld.? He took a drag on his cigarette. ?Poser.?

She frowned. ?You really know your stuff.?

?I don‘t. It‘s just that there‘s—never mind.?

?There‘s what??

?Never mind.?

She opened her mouth to say something, but ultimately said nothing. She left, just like she did last time.

It was a cloudy day. The rising sun was reduced to a pink-orange smear in the clouds. Nick had run out of cigarettes the other day and didn‘t bother to refill his stash. He went up the footbridge and leaned against the railing with his hands in his pockets, watching the not-so-busy intersection instead. People crossed the road while cars drove by every now and then.

?The late night block,? the woman from two days ago said, suddenly appearing at his side.

?Huh? Where‘d you come from??

?You know Seinfeld because you‘re always up late, am I right??

He sighed. ?Dead on. What makes you think I stay up late?? ?Your face.?

?Huh??

?You look tired. Like you‘ve barely slept. There‘s circles around your eyes.?

He rubbed his eye. ?I see. What are you gonna guess next, my SSN? Visa??

?What do you want me to guess??

?Nothing.?

?Alright, cool.?

?Why are you even talking to me, trying to get all buddy-buddy??

?To be honest, I don‘t like dealing with people. You look like you feel the same way.?

?You‘re not wrong. You‘re part of ?people‘, though.?

?Ouchh. Well, um—how about That ‘70s Show? Do you watch it? It‘s on the late night block, isn‘t it??

Nope. I don‘t watch it. Friends is more my thing.? ?Oh, Friends.?

?You should stay up late some time. Watch the reruns. Wallow in sadness when

Friends ends.?

?I‘d wallow in sadness regardless—Oh! Forget I said anything!? ?Deed‘s done,? he said. ?Don‘t worry, it‘s not like I care about you.?

Chatter sprung up as throngs of students filed into the halls. Eva held her book bag limply with one hand as she made her way to campus lobby. She glanced around the sparsely crowded lobby before she found a dark-haired girl waving at her. Approaching her, Eva asked, ?You called for me??

The girl plucked a cherry-red lollipop out of her mouth. ?Yeah.? She pulled a keyring out of her pocket; hanging on it was a small key.

?What‘s this??

?Roof access.? The girl tossed it at her, and it landed in Eva‘s open palm. The girl stuck the lollipop back in her mouth and, with her arms stretched behind her head, walked away.

Eva hurried up the stairs. At the top, she came to a small space with a lone door. She inserted the key in the lock and turned the knob. The door opened. The cold breeze met her face as soon as she stepped onto the rooftop. It was still midday, and the cloudy sky was a dreary gray. She walked over to the edge of the roof, where a grated fence stood. One hand resting on the fence, she pulled the scrunchie off her hair and let it blow freely in the breeze.

Her mind wandered. It began to drizzle.

Eva was drenched by the time she got home.

She tossed her book bag onto her dining table and went straight to the bathroom to take a shower. Drying herself, she remembered to take the roof keys out of the pockets of her shorts before tossing them in the laundry hamper.

It was almost six in the evening. She put a pair of loose pajamas and an oversized shirt on and looked in the fridge, only to find that there wasn‘t any parfait inside. She sat on the couch in disappointment, tipping over sideways to rest her head on a throw pillow.

The TV set sat across from her couch and coffee table. It was an old CRT from maybe a decade ago, and it hadn‘t been turned on ever since she moved in. Not that it mattered anyway, since she didn‘t have a cable subscription. There was a VHS player, probably a decade older than the TV, but she didn‘t have any tapes to play.

She stood up and came back to the couch with her laptop in hand. Setting it down on the coffee table, she navigated to her video-on-demand service, viewed all shows and sorted them by year. With two fingers on the laptop trackpad, she scrolled down to the 1990–1999 section. It wasn‘t too far down; most people nowadays wanted to watch the shows from nowadays. They kept the older shows around for the people that weren‘t in the ?most people‘ crowd (save Friends, of course. Everyone wants to watch Friends).

First thing in the morning, instead of going straight to his favorite footbridge, Nick headed to the subway and knocked on the kiosk counter until the old Italian behind it woke up.

?What, what?! Why so early??

?Eight Stars,? Nick said, slapping a one-dollar bill down on the counter. Grumbling, the Italian took a pack of cigarettes and slid it on the counter before taking the bill in his greasy hands. Nick stuffed the pack into his pocket and walked away.

Yesterday, the weather channel—which, in the present day and age, only existed for the jazz—stated that it would rain for the next three days. It was a news report from 1995 and they stated it would rain in Houston, but it rained there anyway. He headed up the subway stairs and flipped the hood of his raincoat up. The sound of rain battering against nylon filled his ears as he made his way to the footbridge near the campus. There was someone in a black raincoat waiting for him at the top.

?You again?? he asked.

She yelled over the rain, ?Come again? I can‘t hear you!? ?You again?? he walked towards her.

?Oh! Yeah, it‘s me again!? She perked her head up, looking straight at him as he brought the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket.

?What do you want this time??

?I went into town to get you a copy.?

?A copy of what??

She dangled a keyring in front of his eyes. ?This! A key to the roof of the campus!? He took it. Cupping the flame of his lighter, he lit a cigarette and placed it in between his lips. ?Why‘d you get me a copy?? he asked, exhaling a cloud of smoke. ?I thought you‘d like it,? she said. ?My name‘s Eva, by the way.?

?Nick.?

A car sped around the corner of the intersection, splashing muddy water onto the sidewalk.

?The view from up there is great, you know,? Eva said. ?Probably is. Too bad there‘s nothing to look at.? ?What do you mean??

Nick threw his head back. Drops of rain fell on his face. ?There‘s no sun.? ?I see… Oh, um, I watched Friends last night.?

?Do you come here just to talk about TV shows?? ?No—no, not at all! I come here to talk to you!? They stood in awkward silence for a moment. Nick tilted his head sideways. ?Really??

Eva buried her face in her hands. ?Forget I said anything!? ?Nah, nah, it‘s fine. I don‘t mind.?

?I, uh, always took you for the loner type.?

?I‘m not a loner.? He took a drag. ?People just don‘t talk to me. Don‘t ask why.? ?Why—oops, sorry.?

?Whatever,? he sighed. ?You wanna talk about Friends?? ?Sure.?

Nick tore the key off its ring and added it to his own, next to his house keys. He made his way to the top of the stairwell and unlocked the roof access door with the key Eva gave him. She thought right; he did like it. The view from there was better than from the footbridge. He could see the skyline better, even though mist and rain reduced most of it to dark rectangles in the distance. Cars were now small shapes of metal and smudges of red light illuminating the wet roads below them.

He leaned against the fence at the end, face pressing against the cold metal. It was getting dark; the streetlights were beginning to light up.

After two minutes of watching cars pass by, he realized he had no reason to stay on the roof. He turned around to leave when Eva passed through the roof access door. ?Oh,? she gasped.

?Don‘t mind me,? Nick said, brushing past her. He was halfway down the flight of stairs when she called after him.

?Hey, wait!?

?...What do you want??

?I… um, never mind.?

He said nothing, continuing down the stairs.

It was stupid, Eva thought. The closest thing she had to a real friendship was some chain smoker she only saw for a few minutes a day, at most. Of course, she‘d probably have more friends if she‘d just bothered to talk to other people. She was one of those people that kept their lack of social interaction under the label of ?introvert‘.

It was nine P.M. Her shift was over. She changed out of her waitress‘ uniform and into casual clothing. She punched her card into the clock.

?I‘m going,? she said softly to nobody in particular, slinging her bag over her shoulder and leaving the restaurant. On the way home, she stopped by a café to buy iced coffee and three orders of peach parfait, all to go. She was grateful that she made just enough to put parfait in her fridge every other week.

Tossing the empty plastic cup into a bin, she collapsed sideways onto her couch and fell asleep. She was too sleepy to remember that she was supposed to be sad and lonely or something.

The morning after, Eva had peach parfait for breakfast. The skies were beginning to clear.

Instead of heading to the footbridge like she would have, she went into the campus and hurried up to the roof. Nick was standing behind the fence with his hands in his pockets. Taking a deep breath, she walked over to him at a brisk pace. ?Hey,? she greeted.

?Hey, yourself.?

?How are you doing??

?Fine.?

?So, um… Have you ever cried while watching TV??

?Once.? He took the cigarette out of his mouth and exhaled. ?What are you, psychic??

The way he said it so matter-of-factly surprised her. It was as if crying to an old sitcom meant nothing to him.

?I wasn‘t expecting you to… I, um…? she stammered. ?I‘ve done it, too. It‘s really lame, I know...?

?What do you mean it‘s lame??

?It gets kinda lonely at home, you know? When you get up, it just dawns on you that you haven‘t really done anything. Other people are working, talking to people, getting into relationships, and you—I‘m just here. Doing nothing.?

?Why are you so worried about other people??

?Because there’s no ‘other people’ in my—never mind.?

?Here you go again with the ?never mind‘,? he sighed. ?Just spit it out.? ?It‘s nothing.?

?Okay, I‘ve cried at Friends because I was drunk off my ass and had nothing better to do. Now you tell me.?

>

?Just—never mind!?

?I could give less of a damn about you, so if you want to say something out loud, now‘s your chance. ?

She sighed. ?Alright. I‘m… I‘m lonely. I always think that I prefer being alone, yeah… But I don‘t. It sucks. I hate it. I hate coming home to an empty apartment. I hate how nobody messages me. I say things like, ?oh, I don’t need people bothering me,‘ but I want to be bothered! I want somebody to talk to me! All I want is—? A tear ran down her face. ?I just want a friend,? she cried.

Nick was looking back at her with an expression of concern. ?...I didn‘t think you had it that bad.?

?What do you mean??

?I always thought you were the opposite of me. Some annoying semi-popular girl. I thought you‘d have too many friends.?

Eva brushed a tear away and tried to smile. ?Guess we‘re not so different, huh??

He smiled back. ?Consider me a friend.?

?Thank you…?

?Now that we‘re friends… what‘s your favorite food?? She perked up immediately. ?Peach parfait!?

A day before exam-induced panic would set in among the student body, Nick and Eva met at the campus rooftop.

?So tell me, how was Friends as a whole?? Nick asked, leaning against the fence. ?Great,? Eva replied, digging into a newly opened cup of parfait. ?Just great.?

?I still wonder how you managed to binge ten seasons of television in the span of two weeks. I hope you don‘t do the same for the next show you pick up.?

?Relax, I‘ve got a life outside of studies now.? She shoved a spoonful of parfait into her mouth. ?Besides, Friends is probably the only thing I‘ll ever watch.?

?Didn‘t you mention That 70s Show and Seinfeld at some point?? She glanced aside. ?I was just making conversation.? ?Oh. Poser.?

?Ouch.? Her phone beeped. She pulled it out and read the text message she received. ?The parfait gang is waiting on me, I gotta get going.?

?Have fun.?

Eva left, hurrying down the stairs.