Boy the Niners are terrible this year. They get their first first down on the last play of the first half. They are so pathetic. Brad and Marcia show up around the end of the first quarter. I try to be nice to her, and pretend that she's not investigating me, and that she's not involved in a conspiracy to control people's minds.
I see Marcia wandering around the apartment as I go to get some beers out of the fridge.
"Oh Alex," she says, "it's so sad that Ellie left. I really liked what she did with this dump, especially since she had so little to work with."
"Yeah, I miss her," I say. "She really brightened things up."
Marcia retreats from her haughty attitude and says, "she really meant something to you, didn't she?"
"Yeah." I look around the place. "You never gave her a chance. I don't care who you think she is. She's a good person."
"Better than you deserve," she retorts.
"Probably," I concede. "But you yourself just admitted she has good taste."
Marcia frowns. "Still haven't heard from her?"
"Not a peep."
"Well I have to run. I'll be by to pick up Brad later."
I flop down on the couch next to Brad who's been shouting and cursing at the Niners slow start.
"Dude," he says in his California Surfer voice. "Sucks about Ellie. I really liked her. She was the best damn thing that ever happened to you. You must have done something to really piss her off, because she was all over you man. How do you mess that shit up? Did you sleep with her best friend or something?"
"Oh fuck off." Brothers never understand. I don't understand. "It just didn't work out, okay? Just leave me alone about it."
"Come on man, there will be others. None as good as her, but you'll eventually settle for some minivan-dragging housewife wannabe."
"Oh for fuck's sake will you leave me alone?" Brad thinks his role in life is to put me in my place. "Dude, at least up 'til last week I was getting some."
Brad punches me in the arm, hard. I know that Marcia is the world's biggest ice queen. If Brad gets it once a month he's lucky, and I bet she just lays there like a dead fish. But I'm also sure she gives it up to someone else. I've been on to her game for a long time. Ellie and I would always have some laughs about it. The two of them pretended to be so great, but we knew the truth.
"OW! Hey, I was just kidding. Marcia's cool."
"Fucking Seahawks," groans Brad as Alex Smith is stripped of the ball.
Between the beating the Niners are receiving, the awkward silence between me and my brother, and the depression I feel about Ellie, I don't see how the night could get any worse.
After halftime, my front door opens and in stumbles Carrie unannounced.
"Hey," she says, "I didn't know you had company."
Right. I told her at least twice about having someone over. She limps up to me and confounds things by kissing me on the lips. She's not looking so hot, and her eyes seem a bit more sunken than usual behind her thick frames. She's carrying her laptop backpack, so it looks like she's here for work.
"Hey Brad," I say weakly, "this is my friend Carrie." Brad just waves to her.
"I've got some stuff to show you," she says. "I'll set up in the bedroom."
"Okay, I'll look at it after the game."
I'm beginning to crawl out of my skin. This is about the worst time for her to show up. Brad is looking at me in amazement.
"Dude," he whispers to me, "you left Ellie for that? Are you fucking out of your gourd? She's a train wreck."
"I didn't leave Ellie," I hiss back. "She left me."
"Okay man, but you gotta drop this rebound thing fast. I mean I've heard of sloppy seconds but this is ridiculous. You know, there's something familiar about her. It's like I've met her before. What did you say her name was?"
"Carrie Park. She went to Stanford. She's been working at Infinitae almost as long as me."
"Where did she go to High School? That name is familiar."
"I have no idea. Hey, Carrie, where did you go to high school?"
Carrie limps into the room. "Umm...Hey. I went to Sherman Oaks in Tarzana. Why?"
"You just seem familiar. What a minute. Carrie Park...didn't you die?"
Carrie smiles, "oh yeah. Thanks for that memory. No, I'm not that Carrie Park. That was really bizarre. Some girl with the same name as me dies, and suddenly every relative I have is calling, asking for the funeral arrangements. My grandmom almost had a heart attack."
"I don't remember that," I say.
"It happened the year you were away," says Brad. "God, you look like her a little, too. She wasn't a cousin or anything?"
"Nope," says Carrie. "Went away? For what?"
I shoot a quick look at my brother and he doesn't speak. "There was this mess I got into, and I got sent to this camp. I was a stupid kid back then, but I learned my lesson. It's something I'd rather forget."
"Yeah, we forgive him," adds my brother, who grabs me by the neck and messes up my hair. "Let's not get started on that incident."
"Well if you boys are done interrogating me, I have work to do," says Carrie. "Why do you keep watching this? The Niners are horrible." She crutches herself away.
Eventually Brad tires of the game and calls Marcia for a pickup. We make some tentative plans for our Thanksgiving dinner at the cabin. I start feeling depressed as I realize I never got to spend either Thanksgiving or Christmas with Ellie, and I probably never will.
After I close the door I remember Carrie back in my bedroom. I'm either going to have to put up or shut up. I walk into the bedroom, and Carrie's face is lit by the glow of the monitors, which reflect off her thick glasses.
"Find anything new," I ask her?
She shakes her head. "These people are experts at hiding themselves. It seems like they've been planning this for a long time, maybe years. We're going to have to figure out some way to get to them."
"Well, it's getting late."
"For who," she says, then enlightenment springs to her eyes. "Oh. It's late." She closes her laptop and smiles at me. She pulls herself to her feet and wraps her arms around me. "Oh, Alex. I could never do any of this without you."
Once again I start feeling drawn to her. I think it's partly the beers I had with Brad, partly the depression over my life. I know I don't like her that much. I know that doing anything with her is a mistake. I just don't want my life to feel so empty, and she's here right now, in my bedroom.
I look around the room for a moment, the room that I shared with Ellie. The only thing that reminds me of her is the empty bed. And then I notice the lamp. I had completely forgotten about the hand-crafted silk Chinese lamp she had made for me for our "2 month" anniversary. I look at it and then I look at Carrie, who is beginning to run her hands along my back seductively.
I gently push her away. "I can't," I tell her, "not here. There are too many memories. I need some time, Carrie. The other night, it was just too fast. I need time to get over Ellie. I need to get my head straight."
Carrie scowls at me for a split second, then stares at the ground. "Okay, Alex. I understand, I guess. This isn't easy for me, either. You have no idea what I've been through--well it's not important. Hey, see you at work then?"
Fortunately there's a cab stand just down the street so I walk her and carry her bag. "You okay," I ask her.
Carrie lets out a big puff. "Yeah. I know I shouldn't have come over. Are we still going to be friends?"
"Sure." Just before she gets in the cab I give her a quick hug.
I know things aren't settled with Carrie. I guess I have some feelings for her, but I think that once this whole ordeal is resolved, it would be better if we went our separate ways. I just can't see us being together, at least not like I was with Ellie.