the quickest way in and out (flash fiction)

It pulled him in both directions.  Like taffy.  Like bad earbuds.  It was the story of his life.

If he used the backdoor, he could get a little walk.  A little exercise around the building.  And stop at the bathroom for a pee.

If he used the front, he could get in there and out quicker — then use the bathroom somewhere else (with the check in his pocket).

“Which way?” he asked.

“It’s right here,” she said, walking to the front door.

When he was twenty-two, just out of college, he had talked about going to Tunisia.  He knew where Tunisia was but didn’t know anything else about it.  Why did he want to go there?  For the adventure.  So he could say he had been.  He now realized why he wanted to make that trip.  He didn’t know anybody who had ever been.  He would have taken buses and probably seen a lot of sand and gone days without using language.  It was his big chance to tell people about a place he had been where they had not been, a place where he had been a very independent man, that nobody could match.  Of course he didn’t go — and it’s a good thing, too.  Now, he would not be able to tell anybody anyway.  It would have sounded silly, with so many back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

He stepped down the hall and knocked on the door, even though it was open.

The guy looked up as if he were wearing a mask, except for the eyes.  They were still.

“Beard,” he said.

“Winter,” said the guy.

“Long time.”

“No shit.”

“You busy?”

“No.  Yeah.”

“I finished.  You want it?”

“I don’t know,” said the guy.  “Do I?”

He shook his head and pulled the DVD out of his pocket, holding it as if it were a candle.

The guy with the beard took three steps, and then one more, and took the DVD.  He pulled out his checkbook.

“Two thousand dollars,” he said.

“Make it three,” she said.

“We had an agreement.”

“You didn’t tell me about the daughter,” he said.

The guy stopped writing and clacked his teeth against his pen.

“Is she on there?”

He nodded.

He wrote the check and handed it to her, and they left, out the hall and into the parking lot.

They held hands.  He hummed a tune. She let go of one hand and took a twirl.