A very short chapter to get myself back into this. Next chapter will explain my absence and be longer. Thank you.


Some Assembly Required

Figure 3: Busy Signal

"Careful dude, those are heavy."

I knew they weren't, not for him, but in a way reminding him of that gave me a sense of satisfaction. There was something strange about watching Rigby handling four large garbage bags, all filled with grass, weeds and other green waste. Probably because almost a year ago he could barely handle one, and I'd have to throw it in the dumpster for him. That is, if he was actually trying to work.

"I got it," he grinned, huffing only slightly as he heaved all four bags into the dumpster, a loud thump confirming their successful landing. He turned to me, wiping away some sweat from his forehead. I couldn't tell if he was showing off or completely oblivious. Had there been sweat on him at all?

"You're such a show-off dude," I smirked, panting slightly as a bead of sweat trailed down my cheek feathers. Inside my own head there was no sincerity, a shadow of angry truth eager to be freed . He made everything seem so...flawless lately. He was being a good worker, even for Benson's standards, and the others around the park were treating him with respect. He held himself so calmly, as if he was being careful with every word that slipped past his lips. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time he had insulted me, or even raised his voice. Just once, I wanted him to show me a peek at the Rigby I knew was still in there, suppressing a rude comment or a screaming tantrum. Then I wouldn't feel like this was all a dream, and I would know it was real. I could wake up.

"What, because I can lug heavy trash into a dumpster now? Yeah, that shows a lot of skill," he noted, his sarcasm making me roll my eyes. My case in point.

Admittedly, I did enjoy the benefit of finishing early; in the old days, we'd be finishing up with a sunset looming over us. I'd be angry at wasting my whole afternoon, usually pestering Rigby about how slow he was. Then would come the defensive apathy from him, and an argument usually followed.

Did I actually say, 'old days'?

I may almost be 24, but I wasn't an old man. "Old days," I whispered out loud, letting the fiber of the words roll off my tongue. They were bitter, ancient, a rush of painful nostalgia almost making my eyes sting with hot tears. No, not here. Not now.

"What did you say?"

His voice brought me back from my thoughts, his stare meeting mine was, puzzled by the vacant look I must have be wearing.

"Nothing," I spat out quickly, embarrassed, blinking those liquid thoughts away. I hated being caught in a day dream, and especially hated having to explain it. After all, my thoughts were the only true privacy I had. He nodded and didn't press it, and I was grateful for that.

"I think we're done, dude. Wasn't that the last thing on the list?" he asked, changing the subject.

In response I walked over to the rock I had kept the list under and snagged it, the paper crumpled and stained a pale green from the grass clippings. Not having pockets was inconvenient at times.

"Let me see." I unfolded the paper I had jotted the chores on and looked it over, my handwriting jumbled and jagged from taking fast notes. Benson hated to repeat himself, so it was all or nothing to get everything down.

"Clean the fountain," I read off first.

Rigby looked over his shoulder, where a newly-scrubbed fountain bubbled and spouted about a yard away. "Check."

"Wash the cart."

He grinned sheepishly; he must have been thinking of the moment he turned the hose on me and soaked me from head and toe in the middle of the makeshift car wash. Cart wash, actually, if you wanted to get technical. "Check."

I stared at him with daggers and he winced slightly, knowing I would get him back. I kept reading. "Weed the garden and mow the grass."

All it took was a nod toward the dumpster. "Check and check."

With no more chores on the list I let myself sigh contently, crumpling up the paper into a ball. "Yup, we're done."

"We're an awesome team," he smiled, crossing his arms. "Always have been."

A sudden laugh escaped my beak; maybe now we were, but a year ago? Right. "I wouldn't go that far."

Rigby's ears perked up and he stuck out his tongue. "Whatever dude, we're like peanut butter and jelly. Or bacon and eggs. Or mustard and bagels."

I laughed even harder. "Mustard and bagels? What?"

"I like mustard on my bagels," he spat defensively, then pointed a finger at me accusingly. "Don't knock it 'til you try it!"

"I'm going to pass on that one man," I said simply, shaking my head.

And just as I think it's all changed, I'm reminded of things that always will be the same.

"Your loss," he grinned. I was about to remind him it wasn't, but stopped myself. Rigby was leaning against the tree next to me; a prime opportunity. I couldn't resist giving him a shove, but frowned when he barely scooted back, a look of surprise crossing his face.

I wanted him to fall. What was wrong with me?

"What was that for?" he asked, not upset, but there was shock in his voice.

"Nothing," I chuckled, holding back a sneer, curling my beak into a forced smile. "Punchies, for old times' sake."

For a moment he looked even more confused, but a smile quickly reappeared. "Hm hm. You can't beat me as easily now."

This was true, and it disgusted me for some reason. I swung once more, using more force than I intended to. My fist collided into his arm and he flinched, but still didn't bulge.

"Dude, quit it!" he laughed, amused at my second attempt, oblivious to the fact I wasn't playing. I inhaled sharply, finding myself clenching the same fist which had gone back to my side; the only thing I could do was look away, away from this person who was causing all of this.

It's not his fault. What the hell am I doing?

I exhaled and tried to calm myself, focusing my attention on a random spot in the grass. "Are you alright?" I heard him ask, and forced myself to look back at him, the smile on his face has disappeared and a look of concern had replaced it. His hand cupped into my shoulder and it felt foreign to me. "I didn't punch too hard did I?"

"I'm fine, dude," I snapped, grabbing his hand and shoving it away. "Just fine. Stop always acting like you care."

His eyes widened at this and I didn't care, though what I heard next I definitely didn't expect.

"Fine, I won't. I'm gonna go tell Benson we're finished and then we'll be done. You can go inside or do whatever," he shrugged, and I felt myself gawk as he turned and actually started to walk away. I couldn't believe what I was seeing or hearing. No, he was supposed to be insisting he did care; he was supposed to be begging me to...

My wing reached for him and I felt my body stumble as he kept moving, feet shuffling to keep up. Finally my hand grasp him and he looked back. My feathers almost ruffled at the look of disgust he was wearing.

"What?" he sneered, trying to break free. "I'm leaving you alone. That's what you wanted, dude, right?"

"I..."

I merely hung my head, and felt myself freeze in place.

"Sorry, I don't know why I said that."

His head shook. "You're so full of shit. That's exactly why I walked away, you meant every word and you still do. I'm tired, Mordecai; having you take this out on me is draining. Just when we get closer, you push me away. I've tried so hard to understand what you wanted, but I'm too stupid to see I guess."

I opened my beak to speak, but found no words for a reply that would hold up. My head shook slowly from side to side, feeling like a jerk.

With that, he sighed and walked off, making me feel like the biggest hole in the world.