He comes back from his afternoon run, his vest dripping with sweat. He finds them on the couch eating junk food while watching TV. “You know why you guys are always catching a cold or coughing, it’s all these chemicals you eat.” He says while toweling off and his seventeen year old daughter looks at him, rolls her eyes and goes back to watching TV. “We’re all really made of chemicals Mr. Fred,” her boyfriend says. “The human body is all just chemicals: Oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorous. That great feeling you got after you finished your run. That was dopamine. Chemicals, chemicals, chemicals.”
Wanja pushes him out of the sofa and he falls butt first on the floor with a thud. “Why are you always making stuff up,” she berates him. Her dad was not completely on board with the idea of her having a boyfriend at that age but it seemed to be the only thing keeping her erratic behavior at bay. Her erratic behavior which had overwhelmed all the minders he had hired to look after her. They met at one of her dad’s dignitary events. Wanja had agreed to step out of their manor for the first time in a long time. Mark was a waiter at the event and she liked him and he seemed to like her too. They talked, he worked in the evening and attended hospitality classes during the day. He was smart and he often came up with clever quips and depending on her mood, Wanja either liked or despised them.
She kicks Mark while he’s on the floor and her dad runs to his rescue.
“Stop it Wanja, stop it.” He holds her and she kicks her legs in a tantrum flurry.
“It’s okay, it’s okay Mr. Fred. She didn’t mean it,” Mark says while getting up and Wanja having calmed down straightens her blue dungaree, hugs him and tells him she’s sorry. “Don’t worry about it.” Mark says, “Remember the pasta and gravy cooking show we’ve just watched, let’s go try make some. He gets up, takes her hand and leads her to the kitchen.
“I love you,” he says, his eyes square on hers like a towel on a hook. “You look as hot as lava by the way. That dungaree makes you look like the love child of Denzel and the duchess of Cambridge.
“I don’t deserve you,” she coughs, tears pooling on the edges of her eyes.
“Hey, hey, stop that.” He moves close to her and wipes a falling tear from her plump cheek with his thumb. “Now be a sweetheart and pass me the pan.”
“Something smells good, who is cooking?” Wanja’s dad sings while entering the kitchen from his shower.
“Mark, he’s cooking for me.”
“The most beautiful thing in the world is a woman watching a man cook for her.” Mark drums.
“He believes that once you conquer a woman’s mind, you conquer the woman and his way of getting into my mind is these acts of kindness.”
“Are they working?”
“I think I need more convincing.”
Wanja’s dad smiles, picks up a spoon, dips it into the sufuria and haves a taste. “I think the gravy needs a little bit more salt.”
“Don’t touch it, you’ll ruin it. It’s perfect the way it is.” Wanja jumps, having moved from warm and bubbly to cold and glassy. “You don’t add brush strokes to the Mona Lisa or edit Michael Jackson songs and neither should you tinker with Mark’s gravy.” She holds her head for a minute as if it’s heavy then storms out and her dad chases after her. Mark is left with his gravy, biting his fingernails.
Wanja comes back, still reeling and finds Mark in the sitting room on his phone. She snatches it from his hands and hurls it against the wall, shattering it. “Didn’t you hear me calling you?” She barks. “Is a phone more important than me?” He refuses to respond to her sophomoric barrage and Wanja gets even more agitated. She moves closer and attempts to kick him but he moves and the force of her flying leg sends her crashing on the sofa, back first.
“Let me help you to bed?” Mark says while stretching out his hand.
“No, I am okay. Go back to your phone.”
She gets up slowly as if an anchor were weighing on her shoulders and goes to her bedroom. After a few minutes Mark knocks on her door carrying a tray of food.
“Can I come in?”
He sits next to her and puts the tray of food on her dresser and hands her two pills and a glass of water. “I know it’s not easy dealing with me and my mental problems. My mercurial personality and benzene bouts of depression and hallucinations.” She says mollified then looks at Mark and smiles after seeing his disarmed face looking at her softly. “You know I have been reading up on your chemicals. Dopamine, a feel good chemical. Highly addictive, released not only when we achieve a goal but also when we take alcohol, smoke cigarettes or masturbate.”
“Is that what you have been up to?”
She laughs and hits him softly on the arm.
“I’m trying to be geeky like you, or maybe I’m trying to get into your good books and get my shot of oxytocin which apparently is released when we care for a loved one. I love you Mark I really do.” He holds her hand. “I love you too, Wanja. From the bottom of my heart.”
Later Mark meets Wanja’s dad where they meet every end month. But before the meeting he reaches in his pocket and comes out with a pill. He swallows the Xanax which he got over the counter to sedate his conscience. His anxiety and panic started going off the rails ever since he started having these monthly meetings with Wanja’s dad. He finds him at the Upper hill country club sitting at the bar area, medium height and balding. His protruding stomach receding thanks to his frequent runs. He’s pulling on a cigar, throwing rings of smoke in the air. Rings that represent his amorphous thoughts.
“How are you Mark?”
“I can’t complain.”
“How is she?”
“I know she can be a handful.”
“It’s alright, I can handle it.”
Wanja’s dad goes back into his jacket and comes out with a fat, brown envelope.
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