Kelsey had showered, shaved her legs all the way up, dried her hair, and stood in the kitchen doorway wearing just a towel. “Why don’t you come to bed?”
Jared didn’t look up from the table where he was adjusting the angle of a book that was propped up on a dark blue box of spaghetti. The table held six other books and record sleeves, all thematically coherent, canted at different angles. At the far end was a red plastic cup.
“After I do this.”
He threw a ping pong ball onto a book of high-end stereo design. The ball bounced up and over to a The Velvet Underground & Nico vinyl reissue, bounced from there towards a hardback first edition of High Fidelity, where it caught an edge, flew sideways from the table and rolled under the fridge. Jared followed it. He was getting closer.
Kelsey held open her towel. “How about you do that after you do this?”
Jared lifted his head up from the base of the fridge and looked over the table, appraised her offer, rolled his lips in between his lips and blew them out. He put his head back down.
“After I finish.”
She was snoring when he went to brush his teeth. She snored like someone very tired trying to start a tiny motorbike. The sound had been cute once, before the lockdown. He shut the ensuite door.
It had taken one hundred and twenty attempts to land the ping pong ball in the cup. His post to TikTok had received one hundred and eighteen fewer views. As he watched it again in the bathroom he had to admit it was boring and ugly. The only good thing about it was his face-to-camera intro.
All the time he was spending on the RowClub rowing machine was starting to show. After six weeks what do you expect? He didn’t expect it to make his cheekbones pop or square his jaw. He watched the good looking guy in the mirror rub the day’s growth of black whiskers on his chin. Should he grow a beard? And cover up that chin? No. He’d shave tomorrow.
Before leaving the bathroom he took a selfie. Then more from different angles, like his phone was a satellite mapping every corner of a beautiful new planet.
The talking and the light from the phone screen woke up Kelsey.
“Who are you talking to?” she groaned.
She rolled over to face him and he laid his phone screen down.
She pushed her hair off her face. “You were talking to someone.”
“No I wasn’t.”
She shot her hand out and flipped the phone over. It showed a fuzzy darkness with a few small glints where the milk glass light cover on the ceiling reflected the screen. It was the camera app. She turned off the screen and slid the phone over to him.
“Go to sleep.”
It was annoying, this new preening. Jared was always getting obsessed with something, but you normally couldn’t shut him up about it. It’s just like the cycling, she told herself. Or the RC cars. Or the macro photography. Or the miniature painting. Or the knife making. Or the Japanese robot models. Or the sourdough bread baking. That had been an obsession she could share. Pity it didn’t last as long as the others and was replaced by the damned bouncing ping pong balls into cups. Now that had given way to this private selfie bender. Just in case, she had checked his phone for dating apps, there were none, and peeked into Messages, Messenger, Discord, SnapChat, WeChat, WhatsApp, Telegram, Signal, even his Twitter DMs. He wasn’t messaging anyone. His photos, though, were endless selfies. All of them recent.
On the other hand, he was showering and shaving every day, which made a nice change. The lockdown had sent his hygiene habits towards the feral. Now he even dressed up during the day.
Jared placed the bottom edge of the iPad into the pale wooden stand Kelsey had bought online from Ikea.
“Who are we facetiming?” she said as she placed dinner plates, a chicken tagine, on the table.
Jared sat down, adjusted his hair, fixed his collar, leaned forward and tucked the tail of his shirt under his butt and sat down upon it. Supposedly it was a trick newsreaders used to keep their shirts unwrinkled. He opened the camera app, switched to the front camera and there he was, giving him that shy little smile accompanied by a cheeky glint in the eyes.
“You look nice tonight,” said Kelsey.
He looked at her and grunted, then turned to the iPad, where he was rolling his eyes at himself. The two of them were so in sync. He couldn’t help but smile, and the smile he received in return made his heart flutter.
“Not even a thank you?” said Kelsey, stabbing a piece of chicken so hard the tines of the fork clanked against the plate.
- i wish frank would shower. i woke up in his armpit this morning and nearly barfed
Kelsey was messaging her friends, but all of them, like Anna, thought she was lucky.
he’s started trimming his nose hair and isn’t eating carbs
frank has put on ten pounds. he pulled a piece of hot pocket out of his belly button yesterday. it had been there a while.
he tried to eat it. i had to slap it out of his hand
he’s been taking really long showers. really long and he’s in there with the ipad
well you know what’s going on there
It took planning and sabotage—unscrewing the LED bulb in the bathroom and smacking it against the floor until it stopped working, knocking the plug of the charger part way out of its socket so the iPad didn’t charge—but Kelsey got some solo time with Jared over breakfast. He was still distracted, but he made her coffee while she poached eggs, and though there was no conversation while they ate, it was a comfortable silence.
She wondered what he was thinking, what he was doing. Was he just discovering fashion and grooming, like Anna believed? Her silence was prolonged by her inability to settle on how to broach the subject. Hey, Jared, are you losing your mind? Not a great opener. Jared, are you okay? Too easy. She didn’t want a yes/no answer. Jared, tell me what you’re doing in the shower? With the iPad? That might do.
“Yeah?” He looked up at her, his knife and fork poised over his eggs, ready to slice. Had he started plucking his eyebrows? It was hard to be sure; his fringe had grown long enough to hang in front of them, almost reaching his eyes.
This was harder than she thought. She reached out and with a gentle, affectionate gesture brushed his hair out of his eyes.
“We’ve been in lockdown so long your fringe has grown.”
He dropped his cutlery and sat up, reached for his hair, ran his fingers through it, pulled it down in front of his eyes, and groaned.
“It looks fine.”
He shovelled the last of his breakfast into his mouth.
“Oh god. I need a haircut.”
The bulb he installed in the bathroom was much brighter than the one Kelsey had broken. Somehow the old one had failed to illuminate the fact that his hair was out of control. He could see that now. Both of them could, and he could tell, by the way he wrinkled his nose, that he found it distasteful. They had scissors and clippers in the bottom drawer. He could fix this. A small trim to tidy it up.
It was awkward using the scissors in the mirror. The first few snips of his fringe had been at the wrong angle. Fixing it left it too short. He had to use the clippers to shorten the rest of his hair to match, but the sides kept ending up uneven.
When he turned off the clippers the sink was full of his hair and he looked like he had just started boot camp. It didn’t suit him. He didn’t like it. There was disappointment in his eyes. It hurt his chest to see it. Worse, as he watched, the disappointment turned to disinterest. He turned away, fled the bathroom so he wouldn’t see him cry, and threw himself on the bed.
Kelsey rubbed his back.
“Bad haircut, honey?”
It wasn’t the haircut, but he nodded without raising his head.
“It’ll grow back. Want to come and watch some tv with me?”
She was right. It would grow back. And when it did, maybe he’d still be there.
“Can we watch The Office?” he said into the pillow.