If the mental preoccupation with every possibility caused hysteria inside Gavin’s world, the physical manifestation of it propelled him into pure delirium. As the door to his apartment closed, he found himself slouched against the wall staring at the ceiling with a grin on his face. Characterized by zealous emotion, the last time Gavin remembered experiencing this relative intensity was on that day from his childhood when a pack of baseball cards hidden in his pocket accompanied him out his uncle’s store unpaid.
That was twenty years ago. It was as if the passage of time had intensified the corresponding emotions associated with choices that went against socially acceptable principles. Like that day from his childhood many years ago, Gavin knew that the justification of his choices was delusional. And yet, the decision to carry through with them prevailed. The fuse had been lit and there was no extinguishing it now. In order to consummate this pact with his psyche, Gavin strode towards the kitchen with firm resolve. He poured the remainder of that sealed vial into his orange juice and drank until the glass was empty. By consuming a larger relative dose of the elixir than Alessa in his not so little experiment, Gavin was assured that he would hold the upper hand on the eventual proceedings. He would be in control.
The suspense and anxiety of his decision rendered Gavin completely incapacitated. His subconscious mind was consumed with the seed he had planted. He watered that seed and cultivated its growth at the expense of every other plant in his metaphorical garden. His repeated unexcused absences from research tasks at the lab were beginning to foster the onset of dire consequences. Gavin was unaware that his professor was on the brink of denying him an extension to the grant that would allow him to continue his studies. With the adrenaline coursing through his veins, it simply didn’t matter to Gavin. It was more important to be at home, listening for the click of the apartment door across the hall that he had become so accustomed to noticing.
Whether he was watching television, cooking dinner, even while he was on the brink of sleep, Gavin felt compelled to play the role of peeping Tom whenever he heard a door open or close. It had become so habitual over the course of the two previous days that one would think he had a collar and leash attached, responding as Pavlov’s dog would to the stimuli. He was an experiment unto himself.
For all the energy that Gavin had exerted to control the outcome of this situation, it was not he who ultimately carried it to the next phase. Lying on the couch, overcome by sleep deprivation, Gavin didn’t hear the click of the apartment next door. Neither did he hear the knock on his own apartment door. When the knock occurred a second time, a little louder as a way to insure that Gavin would be able to hear, he sat up straight in a moment’s notice. His hair disheveled and his eyelids sagging in protest, Gavin took a moment to fully arrive in the present before hurriedly approaching the door. He didn’t even check the peephole. As he swung the door open, Alessa stood before him in jean shorts and a t-shirt.
Gavin straightaway entered radar mode, attempting to pick up on any brain wave or signal that may be directed his way. It required all his concentration to appear normal, whatever that meant these days, while remaining receptive to the effects of his newfound addiction. Obsessed by his focused efforts, Gavin failed to greet the visitor at his door. The awkward silence that ensued was finally broken by Alessa. “Hey Gavin, how are you? Did I wake you up,” she asked hesitantly. “No, no,” replied Gavin, “I think I just started to doze off while I was reviewing some of my research.”
“Oh, well I just wanted to say thanks again for the cup of milk the other day,” said Alessa. “I’m making some spaghetti and meatballs for dinner tonight and was wondering if you might like to join me as a thank you.” When Gavin didn’t immediately respond, Alessa continued, “It’s nothing special. I just never eat the whole box of pasta anyway and I figured you had to eat dinner too, right?”
“Sure,” Gavin replied with a grin as he allowed the tension to release from his system, his focus becoming more on what Alessa was saying instead of what she might be thinking. “What time are you thinking,” asked Gavin. “Let’s say around seven,” offered Alessa.
“Sounds good,” said Gavin. And in that moment, he started to sense something formulating in his mind, the semblance of a thought, perhaps a brain wave headed in his direction. “Okay, see you then,” replied Alessa as she turned around to return to her apartment across the hall. And as quickly as that mental thought materialized, it was gone once again. No matter, he thought, he would have the opportunity to continue this experiment later in the evening.
Now it was Gavin who was the one knocking on a door and awaiting a response. As the door to Alessa’s apartment opened, the aromatic scents of garlic, stewing tomatoes, oregano, and basil filled the air. He had never been inside her apartment. As scientifically exact as his bachelor pad was decorated, Alessa’s was cozy and inviting, like a comfy chair in the back corner of a quaint bookstore. “Come on in,” said Alessa with a smile, “I’m just finishing up the sauce and everything will be ready.” The orange tabby cat prancing across the room to greet their latest visitor rubbed up against Gavin’s leg, a mannerism that he presumed meant hello.
Gavin felt guilty, but not for what one might think. The only spaghetti sauce he ever made was poured out of a bottle. Here was Alessa formulating from scratch what smelled like a culinary masterpiece. “Have a seat if you like,” offered Alessa, “and don’t mind Francesca,” leaning down to rub the head of her feline friend, “she’s the epitome of the curiosity and cat thing.”
Taking a seat on the edge of her leather couch, Gavin could see the plates and silverware on the dining room table, precisely arranged with a pair of white wine glasses accompanying the setting. This was his opportunity. Without a specific need to focus on anything in particular, Gavin began to listen with intent, not with his ears, but with his mind. The occasional polite comment originating from Alessa in the kitchen was distracting, but he managed to hold his concentration. He was beginning to sense something. It started out small like ripples of water on the surface of a small pond. But, it was building in magnitude towards a cresting wave breaking on the shore. Yes, there it is, he thought, it’s working. The first mental thought that arrived in his consciousness was one of warmth. This was good, Gavin thought, it’s a start. As the tabby cat snuggled against his side, he instinctively reached to scratch behind her ears.
Remaining hyper-focused now on the wave of thoughts rolling in like the tide, several more apparitions washed up on the sandy shores of Gavin’s mental senses – an intoxicating scent of herbs, a sense of companionship beyond friendship, and …
Just as he was about to discover the next cognitive revelation, Alessa emerged from the kitchen with two bowls of pasta and set them on the table. “Just let me open the wine and we’ll be all set,” she smiled. As Gavin made his way to the table, he felt encouraged by the divinations presented to him thus far. Filling each glass halfway with the Chianti, Alessa was about to sit down when she remembered something, “Oh, I almost forgot. Hold on a second.”
Disappearing into the kitchen again, he heard the refrigerator door open and close. When she reappeared in the dining room, she was carrying a bowl filled with milk. “Here Francesca,” she cooed. As she set the bowl down on the floor beside the table, the tabby meowed with delight at the offering. “I hope you don’t mind,” said Alessa apologetically, “I didn’t have the nerve to tell you that the milk I needed the other day was for my cat. She becomes quite temperamental if she doesn’t get her daily rations.”
It was in this very moment that Gavin was thankful he drank that entire glass of orange juice earlier in his apartment. He couldn’t face the embarrassment of a cat reading his thoughts right now, regardless of whether she had the ability to respond or not. The conclusions were running rampant through Gavin’s brain now – the feeling of warmth: Francesca snuggling against him on the couch, the intoxicating scent of herbs: Francesca’s fascination with catnip while getting scratched in just the right location behind her ears, that feeling of companionship: well, the feline species had always taken a liking to Gavin for whatever reason.
The reality of these revelations was akin to smelling salts being wafted beneath Gavin’s nose. With his newly aroused conscience, Gavin felt deceitful and duplicitous. This feeling would only be exacerbated as the meal neared its completion.
Battling the feelings of shame that washed over him, Gavin managed to carry on a civil conversation with Alessa. Perhaps the wine helped his cause in this regard. Alessa, however, could sense his distant and faraway demeanor. In a desperate attempt to salvage her own plan, she tilted back her head to finish the glass of wine. Setting it back down on the table, she summoned the necessary courage through her vocal chords, “Hey, would you like to go see a movie this weekend?” She kept her eyes on the empty glass in front of her to avert an answer that she didn’t want to hear.
Gavin didn’t respond. He couldn’t respond. All the energy, all the effort that he had invested in uncovering any potential feelings Alessa felt for him was instead discovered through a bowl of pasta, a glass of wine, and honest communication. Honesty, thought Gavin. Now that was something that was certainly lacking in his life as of late. Taking longer than was psychologically acceptable for Alessa, he finally managed to recover and pull himself together. “Sure, I would love to, go to a movie that is” he offered with a genuine smile.
Later that evening, after Gavin took what seemed like a walk across the Sahara, he crossed the hall of the apartment complex and arrived at his own door. He headed straight for the spice rack, retrieved the now empty vial, and deposited it directly into the trash. He couldn’t even manage the sight of a now harmless container. The glass vial was a reminder of the guilt and disgrace that occupied every corner of his being.
He should have felt elation, instead he felt distress. The woman that he had such intense feelings for was actually interested in him. And he went behind her back in a surreptitious manner to deceive her. Gavin already felt as though he had cheated on Alessa and they hadn’t yet gone on their first date together. How was he going to tell her? Was he going to tell her? Once again, he arrived at a moment in his life where he knew what he needed to do. This was a peculiar temptation, to tell or not to tell, that would need to be broached some other day, somewhere in the future. Gavin needed time to think and he reassured himself that he had plenty of it.