He had a uni-brow.  Thick and wild gray stray hairs grew out from the strangest places of Barry.  Even the center of his nose.  He said, “Yeah.  Gotta do something about these scraggly hairs, pluck them or something.”  He said, “I have a treat.”
Barry had brought a bottle of pinot noir. Helen’s least favorite.  Too watered down.  I want robust, she thought as he played her a simple tune on his guitar.  Each note, like a mosquito buzzing around her, flew to her ears first, then stung, down, down, all the way down.  And the couch they sat on, the loveseat, vibrated uncomfortably.
Barry had made this seem like a date and Helen was confused.  She thought, he should know we’re just friends.  He’s not my type.  He’s quite unattractive.
The guitar was the gift.  The words.  No other treat necessary, she thought.  The guitar made his ugliness disappear a little.  Helen leaned in to hum with him.
After the wine, Helen felt comfortable enough to announce, “I have to pee.”  When she walked back in the room, he’d poured her a new glass of wine.  “New Zealand vino,” he said.  “And my treat, doll.  It’s ex-traordinary.”  Why is he calling me doll now, she wondered.
While Helen was in the bathroom, Barry had poured the wine and swirled tiny white pieces of ecstasy into her glass with a knife. The morsels sank to the bottom, disintegrating.
This is strange, Helen thought while she peed.  Barry was a good friend of her of ex-boyfriend Jim’s.  Maybe Jim told him to come over, she thought.  Maybe Jim said I was lonely.  And then she felt a wave of exhaustion, heavy eyelids, Barry was not attractive, she decided.  Not at all.
“Mind if I put on some comfees?” Helen asked.
“No worries,” Barry said.
“Look away while I change into sweats.”
But he looked back a little too soon and caught a glimpse of pink panties.
“This wine is tart,” Helen said.
“It’s my treat, sweetheart.”
Helen watched Barry’s face turn into three faces, one on top of the other.  Dark shadows came and sucked up his eyes.  Helen zoomed in on the hairy spot in the center of his nose.
Barry sang and strummed on his guitar the lines, “Can’t smile without you,” over and over again in different keys.  A minor, e, e minor, g.
And she wondered, why is he calling me sweetheart.
Each word bled into the other.  Was he singing or speaking, she wondered.  The hairy spot on his nose was shifting.  It moved to the center of his forehead.  Or was that his uni-brow?  It moved to his cheeks.  Or was that stubble?
“I’m scared, Barry.”
“What’s the matter, cute little thing?”
“You came over here because you thought you’d get laid.  I see through it.  My roommate’s here.  The door’s open.”
“Sweetheart, you’re tripping out.  I’m your friend.  It’s just really strong e.  My treat.”
Helen grabbed the bottle of New Zealand wine and lay on carpet looking up at a shifting cottage cheese ceiling.
“Just keep singing,” she said, grinding her teeth.
He smiled, “You’re such a cute little thing.”
“You brought the e to drug me,” Helen said.
“I’m your friend. Cute little thing.”
Helen was scared.  She called Jim then and he picked up the phone.  She said, “You gotta come over,” but Jim hung up. Click, he was gone.
“Jim’s gonna come over and kick my ass.”
“No.  He’s not coming,” Helen said.
“Such a cute little thing.”
“Play me a song,” Helen said.
He played the same tune, same words, “Can’t smile without you.”
“You’re so smart,” Helen said.  “I know what you’re doing.  You didn’t call me sweetheart when you got here, or cute little thing.  You should go.”
He kissed Helen’s forehead, rubbing the coarse hairs on his nose against her nose.
“Cute little thing,” he said.
“I don’t want to be kissed,” she said.
“Such a cute little thing.”
“I think you need to leave,” she said.
“It’s Jim isn’t it?  He’s gonna kick my ass.”
“He’s on the way, you have to go now.”
Barry hugged Helen then, a little too hard, a suffocating hug, he needed some love.  But she couldn’t breathe, and she begged, please, please. And then a knock,
“Oh fuck,” Barry said.
Her roommate, Juan, a broad shouldered, burly man, stormed in, and grabbed Barry by the back of the shirt.
“Oh fuck,” Barry said it again.
“Get out of here and don’t come back,” Helen’s roommate said.
Helen heard the elevator ding ding.  Barry was gone.  She curled up in red sheets, her jaw clenching tight, teeth grinding, shadows blurring together on the cottage cheese ceiling.  She had a drumming headache.  Those nose hairs, she thought.  “You’re a cute little thing,” she replayed the words in her head and thought cute, not a thing.  Cute, not a thing.
And Helen curled up next to her vertical pillow, a substitute man, a fluffy mass of artificial intimacy.

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