If anyone had told Grant he was going to be dressed as a rocket surgeon and cowering in an alleyway with a guy in a duck costume yelling at him, he would’ve thought he was living in an episode of some ridiculous television show. But something so stupid probably would never have made it to the screen. This foolishness could only be the stuff of reality, and unfortunately, that reality was his.
It all started with Dakota’s birthday party. Since the majority of their friend group were English majors, she had to pick a theme to match. But not a Jane Austen dinner party or dystopian Hunger Games role playing: that was too basic while she wanted something unique. With a drum roll, she announced the theme would be “Mixed Metaphor.”
“What the hell is mixed metaphor?” Will, Grant’s friend and roommate, asked as Grant scrolled through Google, searching for ideas for them both. Will was part of the minority of their group whose days weren’t filled with English courses. In his case, his time was split between IT and business.
“So, I should dress up as a really dumb crayon?” Will replied and Grant shrugged. “No offense, this sounds kind of pretentious. We should just dress up as our favorite book character and be done with it.”
Although he enjoyed the challenge, Grant could admit it kind of did feel pretentious and he kind of wished it was easier too. “Yeah, but there’d be like five Holden Caulfield’s,” he laughed.
Eventually, Grant’s searching found him a winner. The night of the party, he strutted up to Dakota’s door in a crisp white lab coat, NASA t-shirt, surgical cap, and stethoscope. At his side was Will, who despite his initial mockery, warmed to going as a stupid crayon, and made it official in a red shirt with Crayola written across it as “Krayoola.”
Despite the nerdy theme selection, Dakota’s apartment was in stereotypical party mode. Streamers swooped from the ceiling, and on the bookshelf, a small Bluetooth speaker projected the hits of the 1990s and early aughts. Even Dakota’s Charlotte Bronte poster had gotten in on the action, with a birthday hat adhered to the top of her head and a balloon taped into her hand.
Around the room, their costumed friends nursed plastic cups of whatever they selected from the menagerie of liquor bottles on the counter. Dakota was dressed as a dollar with the word late stamped across it, while her girlfriend, Heather, was an April calendar that ended on the 29th, which Grant guessed to mean together they were a dollar late and day short. In the idea of looking a dead horse in the mouth, Jack was in a horse onesie which had X’s over its eyes.
The rainbow swirl from a $10 globe light landed on Lex—short for Alexandria, and not for Lex Luthor. Although, if Grant was being honest, it might as well have been the latter considering as his ex, she knew his every weakness like Luthor knew Superman’s. She was channeling a Little Bo Beep-type character, and carried a basket which, on closer inspection, had stuffed chickens in it.
Clever, but then again, she always had been. It had been one of the reasons he had liked her so much—not that any of those feelings were reappearing. After nine months of dating, they were back to where they started: friends. Or at least acting friendly towards each other.
Will burst into laughter. “Look at Simon.” Even if Grant ever did want to rekindle what he and Lex once had—you know, minus the fighting that came to make up 80% of their interactions toward the end—she had Simon now. Her boyfriend, who tonight was dressed in the fluffiest duck costume Grant had ever seen. “You know what?” Will continues. “I take back what I said about this being pretentious. That just made it worth it.”
As if she could feel them looking, Lex turned towards them, smiled, and waved them over. Taking the invitation, Will and Grant zigzagged around their friends, stopping once to give their gifts to Dakota and wish her a “happy birthday” on their way.
“What are you doing here? Shouldn’t you be at Cape Canaveral in the operating room or something?” Lex said to him as they walked up.
“That’s not until tomorrow afternoon, so I got some time,” he replied and pointed a finger at her basket. “I’d be careful keeping all those chickens in one place. I heard you shouldn’t do that.”
She smirked. “No, you’re thinking of eggs. These are fine.”
“Ah, right,” Grant nodded, and as they both laughed, he could see Simon’s eye on him out of the corner of his own. On any other day, Grant found himself intimidated by Simon. They had never quite meshed—and even less after Simon began dating Lex. He also basically was a member of MENSA, and although he didn’t look like it, could probably bench press Grant without any trouble. But, the glare didn’t have the same power when it was coming out of a bright orange bill.
Will said as he fished the rye chips out of a handful of Gardetto’s mix he’d pulled from a nearby bowl.
“Not much. You?” he replied.
“Same, although, I have to say, I’m a little stuck on what your metaphor is,” Will said and popped a piece of the snack into his mouth. “But, I’m not the smartest crayon in the box either, so maybe it’s just over my head.” Grant wasn’t sure if it was over his either. While Simon was definitely a duck, what the partially blacked out number one taped onto his chest or the shreds of white paper stuck to the fur were supposed to signify, Grant was not completely sure.
“Don’t count your ducks before they hatch,” Simon said, as he shot a look at Lex, which made Grant believe it hadn’t been Simon’s idea.
“It’s a couples costume, like with birds,” Lex supplemented.
“Got it,” Grant said, even though he didn’t quite understand it, other than they both shared the theme of poultry. From the scrunch of Will’s forehead, he didn’t seem like he did either, and from Simon’s hard stare, he didn’t seem happy about it. The silence that fell between them all ranked high on the awkward meter.
“I think I should get a drink. Anyone want anything?” Grant asked.
“I’ll come with,” Will said, and they walked over to the counter, each grabbing a cup. “I think he’s pissed.”
“Yep,” Grant answered, as he dumped half a can of Pepsi into his concoction.
While it was Grant’s intention to avoid Simon as much as one could in an 800 square-foot apartment, it didn’t happen. More than a few times, he and Lex ended up in the kitchen or in a conversation with friends together, and by extension, would start talking with one another.
It wasn’t romantic or anything, just falling back into a pattern of rapport they had constructed during their friendship and later dating. Still, by the time Heather asked for a volunteer to meet the delivery driver by the door for pizza reinforcements, Simon looked like he had swallowed a bag of peeled lemons and his speech was reduced to staccato sentences.
Happy to take an opportunity to exchange the unmoving warm air of the apartment for the cool night breeze even for just a few minutes, Grant threw his hand up in the air faster than the Lord of the Flies kids turned against one another. It was also faster than anyone else, so he took her keys, headed down the stairs, and pushed open the door just enough to let the wisps of wind hit his body—and apparently enough to be forced out of it.
The impact came from behind, palms shoved directly into his shoulder blades. Grant stumbled out onto the sidewalk, getting his feet under him in time to keep him from going face first into a pair of handprints pressed into the cement.
“What the hell?” he yelled and looked back towards the door, but he couldn’t see it. A fluffy duck was in the way. An enraged fluffy duck. “Simon, what are you doing?”
Simon’s response was to grunt and grab Grant by the back of his lab coat and drag him a few feet into the alley separating Dakota’s apartment from the neighbors. He released Grant with a thrust that sent him to butt first onto the ground, and as he landed Grant had three thoughts: first, ow; second, that he was right that Simon could definitely bench press him; and third, that the face in the gaping duck’s mouth was just as intimidating as when it wasn’t in it. If anything, it made Simon look even more maniacal as he hulked over Grant.
“What is wrong with you?” Grant asked, pushing himself up from the ground, but getting no further than a squat with Simon standing directly in front of him.
“With me? You’re the one who keeps throwing yourself at my girlfriend!”
“Are you crazy?” Grant said, and Simon glowered. Wrong thing to say to someone who was clearly crazy, Grant thought. “I mean, I’m not throwing myself at her! We were just talking! Aren’t people allowed to talk?”
“Yeah, well, it seems like she enjoys talking to you a lot more than she does me!”
What he didn’t was “Maybe because I’m not a jealous douche!” Which he realized was probably the sentence he should’ve kept internal.
Simon lunged towards him, fist outstretched, and Grant barred his arms over his head to protect his face from the collision.
“Hey, what’s going on down here?” Shifting his arms, Grant peered through the crack. While Simon’s hand was still in a fist, it had paused, and all because of the woman on the sidewalk holding the stack of pizzas.
“Nothing,” Grant said, taking advantage of the distraction to scramble up from the ground and over to the sidewalk, bright from the streetlight. “Thank you.”
“Yeah,” she nodded, and looked between him and Simon, who was avoiding eye contact with either of them. He wondered what she must’ve been thinking at the moment—of coming across two costumed men in a scuffle. He didn’t know which was more embarrassing: to be the guy dressed as a duck or the man about to be beat up by the duck. Maybe she was waiting for Ashton Kutcher to jump out and tell her she was being punk’d. Honestly, he wasn’t completely sure that still wasn’t going to happen. Where else would this go down?
“No, no it was a misunderstanding,” Grant said, even though the image of Simon sitting behind bars for a few hours in his current state did entertain him. “Is that the delivery for Heather?”
She nodded again and handed the pizzas over. With another thank you — for the food and for saving him from part of his body turning black and blue, he hurried inside, letting the door close before Simon could follow him. If Simon had to buzz the apartment to get back in, that was fine with Grant. The more distance he could put between the two of them, the better.
In the apartment, his friends gave him a hero’s welcome as he held the pizza high, dropped the boxes on the kitchen table, and popped open the tops.
“What’s with all the dirt on your back, Rocketman?” Lex said, as beside him, she plopped a slice of pizza on her plate. He hadn’t planned on getting into what happened with anyone, at least not until later when he and Will went back to their apartment. Then, he planned to send Lex a text, not to turn her against Simon exactly, but just so she would know what she was dealing with.
But, lifting his head up from the grease stained box, the words he should’ve kept inside for the moment came out once more. “Your boyfriend is psycho.”