A dating site for people on their lunch breaks? What were they thinking? "Lunch Dates" had a nice ring to it, but the idea it had spawned from seemed half-baked and unimpressive at this point. The notion that people would be interested in meeting up in the middle of the day now made her feel embarrassed. Evening liaisons meant drinks and the romantic ardor of nightfall. It meant the window of time to find a meaningful connection was closing as each hour crept toward the inevitability of sleep, which causes people to make more impulsive decisions. They really hadn't thought this through.
She tried not to admit to herself that the way she and Monte had parted on their last meeting had anything to do with her lack of enthusiasm. His words had rung in her ears after they parted, and she had spent the night binging on Doritos and watching Adult Swim. Naomi had a dowdy pantsuit she never wore which Calisto positively swam in, and she pulled it on, checking to make sure it was as unflattering as possible, as if she had taken to heart Monte's condemnation of the previous day's attire.
Each bag of Doritos she had consumed was washed down with a mug of coffee, which she had told herself was for the purposes of keeping her alert as she crammed and reviewed her notes for their presentation. But her tendency for procrastination had instead evoked memories of those lost college semesters, where each all-night study session seemed to devolve into witching-hour shenanigans or fits of memory-erasing dozing. It turned out no amount of caffeine was enough to overcome her gift for avoidance of anything that brought on feelings of dread and failure.
Still, the stimulants (she had wiled away the hours with a bottomless cycle of junk food, then coffee, than cigarettes) had done their job. She was wired, full of nervous energy bordering on panic. But it was too much. She felt herself slipping into paranoia and delusions. So that morning instead of breakfast she poured out a shot of whiskey and slammed it, acting without thinking. The sourness felt good and the drink's sting seemed to have a cleansing effect on her fluttering stomach. She had another, then one more before realizing how insane this was. Calisto was no stranger to day drinking, at least in the early years, but dawn drinking? Rise and shine and chug. The pit into which she had poured so much coffee and Doritos started to churn and heave and she almost wanted to spew all of it out, as if it would purge her of regret and bitterness like some kind of emotional ipecac. But she gagged, staggered a bit and straightened out. Abusing herself in this way made her feel like any challenge that presented itself would be conquerable that day. Once the sickness passed, she didn't even feel drunk. The booze had merely taken the edge off of her self-induced anxiety and now imbued her with newfound courage. She pointed at her reflection in the mirror and said "It is ON," giggling girlishly.
Maybe if she had stayed home that day she would have merely passed out and this early-morning drunken episode would have come and gone with little more to show for it than a mild afternoon hangover. Instead she got to the Blaisdell Arena and immediately felt overwhelmed. People. People everywhere. Moving, talking, laughing, staring at her. A live musician was being blasted through the PA, calmly crooning "On the island, we do it island style..." and it was all that she could hear and the sound carouseled through her being like some foreign antibody. The resonance of the singer's voice and acoustic guitar filled her with nausea and loathing. At this point she couldn't even remember how she had gotten there.
Monte. Where was Monte? Clarity began to creep in somewhat. Their panel was
supposed to be reserved in the northeast wing. Northeast of what? she found herself thinking. Was direction relative, or did true North really exist? People on the other side of the world were upside down from her. The other side of the world was somewhere in Africa. She used to walk her fingers along the globe in her grade school classroom until she got there. The earth spins. That's how come people don't fall off of it. That and gravity. What the fuck was she doing, thinking, saying or feeling?
In the middle of it there was also excitement. Something would happen that day, and even if she'd made a complete fool of herself it was still an accomplishment. Think of all the sad people at home not making fools of themselves, what they were missing out on.
There was Monte and she bumbled over to him and folded him all up in a big clingy hug. Her business partner, friend, and probably something else. He pulled back from her and sniffed the air between them. "You smell like a frat boy," he said. "Are you OK?"
"I'm ready," she said. "We're on."
"We've got five minutes. God, I'm sorry I did this to you. This is too much pressure. We didn't lead up to it properly."
"I'm OK," she said. "If I lean too far to the left I'll barf, though. Don't let me lean."
He took her arm and placed it around his shoulders and walked her behind the partition where their stage was set up. Their audience was starting to fill out the rows of folding chairs in front of the stage. There was actually a couch backstage and he tried to get her to lay down in it. "No," she shook her head. "No lay downing. I'll start falling." They sat down together still clasped.
"Listen," he said. "This is kind of unnecessary. I found a guy who's willing to invest. You don't have to do this anymore."
"That's sweet," she said. "I'm still gonna do it, though. I don't know what else to do. After all this living, dreaming, breathing and working this is all I have."
"Calisto, you're shitfaced drunk," he said. "I can't let you do this. This has disaster written all over it."
"I'll be fine. Maybe you're right about disaster, but if it is then it's my disaster and it's too late to avoid it. Let me have it. I know exactly what to do. I stayed up all night practicing my lines. I have perfect pitch, posture and poise. I will never forgive you if you won't let me fuck this up exactly the way I want to. Let me play, coach. Put me in the game. I got this."
The announcer was introducing them. It was time to present. They looked at each other. Monte was backing down while trying to make it look like he wouldn't. She looked back at him with a determination that bordered on homocidal mania. She was up and the applause was starting. Monte said "Well, as long as I'm going against my better judgment," and took her face in both of his hands and kissed her on the open mouth. When he pulled away, she noticed that she'd stopped breathing and felt sicker than ever. But then her breath came back to her and she knew she had to take the stage. The applause was dying down. His face urged her on. Her stomach guided her away from the nausea and into the empty blackness of her fears.