The Process of Unpacking Lightly
By Christopher S. Bell
Curtis Buck couldn’t help but continue to stare at his girlfriend Brady Ryan’s ass as he followed her up the creaky stairs in their new apartment building located succinctly on 1134 Mable Drive. Although, he had seen such voluptuous cheeks in all their glory several times before that particular Fourth of July morning, there was no denying that the faded threadbare pair of blue jeans she was wearing, solely for the task of moving in, had a certain reminiscent quality to them. In fact, Curtis couldn’t necessarily stir through the clustering memories that continued to run through his head as they both approached the third and final floor, carrying cardboard boxes of random trinkets, while silently reassuring themselves that such an enlarged step towards adulthood was undeniably vital.
They were slowly creeping up on their mid-twenties, having dated since sophomore year of high school, with several delicate speed bumps along the way. On multiple occasions, in the previous eight and a half of years, Curtis had cheated on her; some of the times still completely unknown to Brandy who eventually fell into the reassuringly numb middle ground located between ignorance and bliss. She had her suspicions often, though; their weekends spent together eventually equaling that of the ones they spent apart, stirring through random shades of gray in East Heights and all other available small towns that were close and yet still far enough away to breathe in fresh air.
Brandy had gone through all available modes of reevaluation while getting her nursing degree at Fayette University, late nights full of drunken exploits with both male and female partners seeming like standard issue. They were simply incidents to check off a list, while Curtis remained restlessly back home, slowly but surely working his way up the ranks in his Uncle Myron’s construction business. It was the loud and abrasive nature of his fellow co-workers (who would usually blow substantial portions of their weekly paychecks on all available means to an end at Lou’s Bar) that would ritualistically dunk Curtis’ head back in the thick black pool of infidelity.
However, following his last breakthrough performance with bank teller and former Easton High School student Clara Petrella at the end of the previous May (both refraining from actual intercourse, but instead performing variations of oral sex on one another that only ended with stained clothing and egos) Curtis decided that it was officially time to move out of his parents’ house and potentially settle down with Brandy somewhere not so far away. The skinny brunette was a bit cautious about such a seemingly enlarged decision at first, despite the fact that Brandy Ryan knew it was a long time coming. She asked all of her available hometown friends for advice; each one not necessarily helping in the cinematic ways she had hoped they would.
Debra James, (who was two years younger and also inevitably lost in a late night spin she called a profession, grinding on confused yuppies with handfuls of twenties at the Roaring Lion Strip Club) told Brandy that moving in with somebody else at such a young age was an idiotic waste of her remaining youth. Although, such words quickly fell directly into the gutter, Debra moving out of her parents’ house following several reports of disturbing the peace, and in with a regular at the club, school board member Harry Cassady. She then began to wear elegantly slutty attire out to the bar, her lips marked blood red with Merlot and overpriced tubes of lipstick; such an image making Brandy realize that, at twenty four, she was much closer to settling down than she had originally thought possible.
Curtis only sought advice from his friend and reliable male escapist, Max Faber, who was still pedaling around East Heights lacking various types of direction. After quitting or blowing off various lower-level fast food jobs and delivery positions, Max eventually decided to get his associates at the local community college and manage all the highly confused and constantly disappointed stragglers still jumping on unsafe trampolines in their small hometown. He told Curtis the exact same thing that Debra told Brandy, with a slight variation in his wording.
“Man, it’s gonna be harder to score pussy if you’re tied down like that.” A statement that also became sequentially obsolete once Max started dating one of his employees at Bender’s Toy’s located at in the middle of the mall. Alice Frear, another former and still moderately confused graduate of Easton High fit well between Max and the rest of the town, despite the fact that they were still light years away from walking the same kind of ground as their more seasoned coupled friends. And so, it was sooner than later that both Curtis and Brandy simply nodded their heads at each other, and began searching on the outskirts of East Heights, Vermont for any available space to occupy as a self-proclaimed albeit slightly defunct pair.
The rent at the apartment on Mable was affordable and reliably a hop skip and a jump away from the hospital, Brandy looking forward to the remaining days of summer and fall where she could simply walk down the three flights of stairs and out her front door, wearing her uniform and an unexplainable smirk. Curtis was merely pleased to be far enough away from his mother to respectively get his girlfriend off, and yet still close enough for her to do his laundry during unannounced weekend visits. As he set the final box down on the hardwood floor (a jumbled living room full of scattered belongings that both felt summed them up well enough to the point where the standard book definition of their pairing would be a single word that was beyond appropriate for that particular day: INDEPENDENT) Curtis Buck took a much-needed sigh of relief. It was going to be a beautiful jumping-off point.
“So that’s it, isn’t it?” Brandy asked, looking around at the random islands of cardboard boxes spread throughout the entire space.
“Yeah, I think so.” Curtis replied, stretching his arms forward, before cracking his neck.
“Did you lock the van door?”
“Yes, I did.”
“Well, I guess we should probably start unpacking then.” Brandy sensibly gravitated to the far right corner of the room; the largest boxes strategically stacked by an empty entertainment stand that Curtis and his father confusingly built the previous day.
“What, are you serious? You don’t wanna take a break.” Curtis tiptoed around fragile packages of tacky multi-colored dishes and framed pictures from several over-hyped experiences in the previous seven years or so.
“We have a lot to do today.”
“Yeah, I know, but I was thinking we could maybe break in the place first.” He gave her a shitty grin, before placing his arm on her waist.
“You wanna fuck right now, is that it?” Brandy asked, seemingly disinterested.
“Well, I mean, do you think it’s gonna be that horrible?”
“I feel dusty like this apartment Curtis.” She replied, truthfully.
“If you think phrases like that are supposed to turn me off, then obviously you don’t know me too well.”
“Yeah, I suppose that’s true.” Brandy sighed, as his hands slowly moved down from her waist to her butt. She then callously let him kiss her and cope various feels, it taking three to four minutes of foreplay before Brandy could realistically say that she was in the same kind of mood.
They cleared off several fragile pieces of junk from the hand-me-down green couch, before undressing out of habit and continuing to press each other’s buttons. Halfway through going down on her, Brandy asked Curtis if he had any condoms left, her birth control pills having reliably ran out two days earlier. Quickly the naked twenty-four-year-old arose from the couch, hopping around all the scattered cardboard boxes, labeled with permanent red marker, and went into their shared bedroom. He then began to frantically search through his dresser drawers, before finding the faded red safety device under sloppily folded pairs of boxers.
Curtis then giggled to himself as he quickly pulled the rubber out, letting the wrapper fall to the floor, and then inserting it over his still erect penis. Upon returning to the living room, Brandy was still naked and yet more or less disinterested with the thought of being buttered up again after finding the new issue of Cosmopolitan conveniently packed at the top of one of the closest boxes. She flipped past a page and sighed before looking up at Curtis who stood like Superman, waiting for any available emergency to happen.
“Do you snap out of things this quickly all the time?” He asked, before looking down to make sure he still was packing a loaded gun.
“Does it always take you this long to come back to the scene?”
“Fair enough.” Curtis sighed, before slowly walking back over to the couch and sitting down next to her, pretending to be completely disappointed. “So I guess we should start unpacking.”
Brandy smirked at such a comment, before throwing the magazine on the floor and pushing her boyfriend back on the couch. She then aggressively took over the situation, an act that hadn’t occurred since their senior prom. Curtis had been beyond shit-faced that night, his girlfriend having to walk him through all kinds of steps before she was eventually satisfied enough to fall asleep next to him.
However, that morning felt different from all the others before it, the two usually having to hide in one of their childhood bedrooms and curb all pleasure sounds to a respectable degree. Brandy was utterly against such a notion at that point in her life, as she climbed on top of Curtis and gyrated back and forth, less than concerned with whatever enjoyment he was receiving from such an act. She would let him grab what he wanted and say highly obscene words, just so long as everything felt different, and hopefully it would stay that way for sometime, or at least until all the bonuses that came with living in sin completely wore off. In any case, it was going to be some kind of an adventure.
Following shared orgasms, Curtis and Brandy both lied still for some time, catching their breaths while starring up at the ceiling with empty minds. It wasn’t until the smell of burnt chocolate chip cookies filtered upstairs from one the neighboring apartments that Brandy decided to set an initiative for the rest of the day. She lit a cherry-scented candle and dressed slowly, Curtis soon following her lead. Arguments then took place over what album to listen to, Brandy soon winning with Oh Inverted World.
The two then began the process of unpacking and organization, Curtis more often than not completely lost in the woods every time he would happen to stumble upon one of Brandy’s seemingly useless possessions, all of which she already had a specific place picked out for where he should put said items. The satisfied boyfriend obliged, deciding after roughly fifteen minutes that he should stick to strictly the boxes he knew, all of which were packed with no sensible order. Curtis was far too excited about the fact that he was leaving his parents’ house to slowly succumb to any kind of order. Brandy would later comment on such an uninspired attribute as the two became even more settled within the white plaster-chipped walls.
The afternoon arrived sooner than both thought it would, the two ordering a large plain from Potter’s Pizza in order to save time and face. They sat on the floor huddled around the open box, the cheese dripping down to their paper plates while listening to “Bird on a Wire,” which just happened to be one of many songs Curtis had burned to a mix for the specific purpose of moving in and away, but not necessarily too far away, from his manufactured life up until that point. He thought about the years passing in ironic waves of bliss, running into former late night flings while slow-dancing with Brandy at a wedding or the two arguing over essential items at the back of the East Heights Market line. All and all, even the passing thought of such a still evolving routine had its fair share of benefits, the main one happening to strike both their brains at the exact same time, two slices in.
“So do you think we need to call and find out what’s going on tonight?” Brandy asked, contemplatively.
“I’m not sure what you mean exactly.” Curtis snapped out of a new daze, varying shades of the past and present being his bread and butter during the unpacking process that afternoon.
“”Well I just mean with everybody else’s plans, because I don’t really wanna call Debra, and I wasn’t sure if you wanted to call Max or not.”
“I’ve been kind of leaning away from the idea of us being social tonight.”
“Yeah, same here, and I’m not exactly sure why. I mean, it’s the holiday, shouldn’t we be getting shitty out of principle?”
“We can still get shitty. I’m just not sure if I wanna do it with anyone else other than you.” Curtis grinned, as Brandy instantly shook her head at such an abysmally sweet comment.
“Well that almost makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside.” Brandy chimed in, sarcastically.
“No, all I mean is, it’s just been that kind of day where despite the fact that everybody’s off and getting drunk and going through all kinds of familiar motions, us moving in here is pretty much the only thing I really wanna deal with, and I mean that in the best way I possibly can, without you misinterpreting into something bad.”
“Are you saying that I misinterpret a lot of the things you say, Curtis?”
“You’ve been known to from time to time, yes.” He grabbed another slice out of the box, delicately letting it fall to his grease-soaked plate.
“Well fair enough.” She paused to wipe sauce from her mouth, dabbing the napkin like she was sitting in a fancy restaurant as opposed to on her brand new rented and dusty living room floor.
The two newly acquired roommates finished their meals, before saving the final slice in the back of the fridge; neither one necessarily wanting to fight over whom got it, despite the fact that both were undeniably full. The unpacking then continued, Brandy stopping Curtis halfway through one of his final two boxes to smoke a thinly rolled joint that she had fashioned from the remains of its departed brothers, most of which her and her boyfriend had inhaled until their fingertips could no longer hold it in anymore. He then simply pushed the two bloated cardboard cubes into the corner, commenting on how much more junk Brandy still had to arrange. She took such words in stride, figuring that throughout the seemingly adventurous spin that was in store for the two of them, battles would have to be chosen wisely.
In that same fashion, Brandy Ryan couldn’t help but smirk as both their stomachs sank again, and then Curtis just happened to make the dire mistake of asking her if they wanted to go out for dinner. It was then that she pounced on not only her boyfriend’s strong will, but also his working-class wallet, the two soon hopping into his car and taking various shortcuts around East Heights, before eventually arriving at O’Ferrel’s. It was an Italian restaurant with an Irish name, yet another exhaustingly suburban joke that only neighbors in the small Vermont town would specifically laugh at.
They sat down in a corner booth, the scene specifically dead that particular evening, the majority of the town already having their own numb plans. Curtis and Brandy could both sense the distaste in their waitress’ mouth as they ordered tall glasses of wine, followed by daily specials. The two then sat comfortably, not necessarily saying anything of importance to each other, but rather both beyond pleased that they had managed to find such a perfect hiding spot on the Fourth, when invitations from friends and roundabout family traditions seemed like a requirement. If nothing else, for the first time in the seven years that Curtis Buck and Brandy Ryan had spent figuring their lives out, a turn against the norm was an absolute necessity.
He soon paid the bill, Brandy purchasing two six packs from the bar for the rest of their night, no set plans having fallen on any of their plates quite yet. Nevertheless, despite their lack of wills to put up any kind of an effort to find designated happenings, their multicolored cellphones remained on, just in case either one received a call confirming their stoned suspicions. Nothing much had or was going to change with the people they had known for far too long in their hometown, and if for no other reason then the fact that the day just happened to be slowly flowing like clouds in the sky, the couple remained tuned in, while still completely tuning out to everyone except each other.
Their return to the cluttered space that both hadn’t quite become familiar with, was triumphant, to say the least. Brandy placed both six packs in the fridge, before plopping herself down on the couch and taking baby sips as the world stopped spinning so fast. Curtis soon joined her, after pissing out the wine from dinner and thinking about other places he could have been that didn’t offer him nearly as much enjoyment. Although, at the same time, such modern escapes would be pleasures that he eventually missed as both his and Brandy’s slowly sinking forms became imprinted within the faded green couch cushions.
Yet there was specific incident that very Independence Day which would flip both their restless sides on edge, neither one expecting for clarity to simply explode in the sky at a moment’s notice. Curtis returned to the living room, moments away from getting comfortable next to Brandy, when the first few sounds were heard off in the distance. They were loud and forceful, and yet nevertheless familiar, despite the fact that neither one was expecting for such a light display to fall within their jurisdiction, if for no other reason then because the entire day had been spent walking a thin line on the outskirts of life.
However, both Curtis and Brandy couldn’t necessarily contain their excitement at such a sound, whether it was strictly an offshoot of the wine at dinner, or rather their new and improved outlooks on the apartment. She darted up first from the couch, walking over to the window, and yet disappointingly finding that the lights weren’t visible. Curtis sighed to himself as she ran down the hallway to the other side of the small space, darting around opened boxes on their bedroom floor. She then pulled the window fan out from its place, sticking her head out, and yet only managing to see pieces of the fireworks going off in the sky.
“Hey, grab some of the beer. Let’s go onto the roof!” Brandy yelled back to Curtis.
“Are you serious?” He said, making himself visible in the long hallway.
“Yeah, now C’mon, we’ll go up the fire escape, maybe fuck, if you’re lucky.”
Brandy was soon putting one foot out the window onto the rusty black fire escape, while Curtis ran back into the kitchen, his libido understandably excited by such a notion. Sex on the roof during the finale was an opportunity that came along once in a lifetime, and if nothing else, the twenty-four-year-old knew better than to ruin his chances. He grabbed a full six pack, and was quickly out into the window, grinning largely with each step on the fire escape, as if his entire life up until that point was finally culminating with the traces of a seemingly perfect moment.
Such wishful thinking soon subsided, though, as he saw the illuminated sky for the first time, and then without a moment’s notice to take it all in, looked across the roof for Brandy. She was on her knees, nervously holding the half-naked and seemingly lifeless body of Easton eighth-grade English teacher, Naomi Gordon, who had gone through an opposite day of familiar motions, all of which Brandy and Curtis had tried to avoid. He instantly dropped the six pack on the blacktop, before rushing over to his girlfriend’s side, and looking at her flushed face, both beyond petrified by such an almost unlucky instance.
“What the fuck?” Curtis said, his brain not given the time to think about or assess such a situation.
“C’mon, help me with her. She’s barely breathing.” Brandy lifted Naomi’s body up with all her might, as subtle groans came forth, before the restless twenty-seven-year-old tilted her head to the side and vomited all over Curtis’ chest. He refrained from saying much of anything, simply giving his girlfriend a disappointed look, before both dragged Naomi away from the fireworks display and back towards the ground.
It was then a dire albeit luckily executed trip down the block towards the East Heights hospital, Brandy and Curtis soon nervously sitting in the waiting room as they attempted to fill out information on their new neighbor who they knew less than nothing about. Eventually her parents arrived along with other worried family members who were completely shaken by such phone calls on that specific holiday.
The couple stayed with the Gordon’s for awhile, amongst breathy words of pure fear as they couldn’t do anything, but wait for the inevitable flip of a coin. Eventually a tired doctor holding a clipboard and a less than pleased look on his face returned to the waiting room, filling everyone in on Naomi’s status. She would be okay after disobeying her own prescription, and yet there was still an unavoidable amount of tears and damage that would stick with all of them for some time, as visitors were allowed to enter her room.
Brandy and Curtis simply returned to their unkempt apartment, not saying much of anything to each other, but rather both completely content to simply fall back on their creaky mattress and pass out. They would later receive many thanks from multiple ends of East Heights, everyone commending such a brave act, and yet neither one would ever know all the details or why exactly their fellow resident at 1134 Mable Drive had decided to succinctly fall apart that evening. They both simply took such an example of human action as a blessing, refraining from talk of it, but at the same time, letting it live deep within them. They would have a new neighbor by the end of August.