Until We Don't Know Any Better
by Simon Jimenez





9:00 pm

Charlie was on his phone, playing with his lucky black yo-yo as he explained to Sasha that the party was going to be fun and that if he didn’t come he’d miss out on the greatest night of his life and that was the truth, honest.

“You always say that,” Sasha said with a laugh. “What makes you so sure tonight will be the greatest night of my life?”

“That’s a secret,” Charlie said coyly as his yo-yo went down, whirring mere millimeters from the rug, “and secrets are meant to be told in person.”

Sasha sighed and said he’d be right over. Charlie smiled and the yo-yo snapped back up.

9:35 pm

“Mushrooms? That’s your secret?”

“Not just any old mushrooms,” Charlie said with a waving finger. He snatched the bag from Sasha’s hands and took out one of the gnarled fungi as if it were a sacred chalice. “They’re stolen from God’s garden.”

Sasha’s jaw hung slack. “Are you fucking crazy? No one’s supposed to go up there. You could get hanged just for trespassing.”

“Hey I didn’t steal them, just bought them,” Charlie said with a shrug. “And how much of a waste would it be, after all the trouble I went through to score these darlings, not to partake in their gifts?”

Sasha hesitated for a moment, and Charlie knew he had won. Sasha took one of the shrooms, sniffed it, and crinkled his brow. “They smell awful.”

“No risk, no reward,” Charlie said, wagging his eyebrows. “Are we gonna party?”

Though Sasha tried valiantly to restrain a smile, he broke, as he always did when Charlie put on his doe-eyes. “Fine,” he relented. “Let’s party.”

Charlie smiled so wide his face almost split. He and his best friend each took a shroom, and swallowed, chasing it down with a shot of vodka.

“Cheers,” Charlie said with a hiccup.

10:30 pm

Pale moonlight gilded the spires of God’s castle and the silver roofs of Heaven that night. As the two friends walked through Groundtown, their shoes click-clacking on the pavement, Charlie looked up gave all of Heaven and the rest of the Upper City the middle finger, giddily screaming, “Bitches may be rich, but I have your drugs!” Sasha, having almost fainted at his friend’s blatant display of insubordination, yanked down Charlie’s offending gesture.

“I wish you wouldn’t be so blasé about the fact that we’re now criminals,” he whispered frantically.

“You’re cute when you’re nervous,” Charlie said, pinching his friend’s cheek. Sasha sighed and shoved his hand away. Charlie noticed Sasha was getting angry, so he decided to back off a bit, and asked him “You feeling the shrooms yet?”

“No I’m not feeling the shrooms,” Sasha whispered even quieter, as if to remind Charlie to stop talking so loud. “Just what are we supposed to be feeling?”

Charlie realized he had no idea. “Maybe a few drinks will speed things up,” he said as they arrived at the club. The pounding bass from inside tickled Charlie’s heart. His excitement rose. He lifted an eyebrow at Sasha, and purred, “How about another vodka shot?” He elbowed the smaller boy playfully until a smile was coaxed out.

“You’re paying,” Sasha said.“Agreed.”

They went inside.

10:30 pm

“No I’m not feeling the shrooms,” Sasha whispered even quieter, as if to remind Charlie to stop talking so loud. “Just what are we supposed to be feeling?”

Charlie realized he had no idea. “Maybe a few drinks will speed—” He stopped himself and grabbed Sasha’s arm for support. “Whoah, Déjà vu. Déjà vu all up in my face.”

Sasha put a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. “You alright?” he asked.

“I’m fine.” Charlie straightened himself out and stretched his neck. “I just need a drink is all.”

They went inside.

11:59 pm

Charlie sipped on a vodka tonic at the bar, watching Sasha through the silhouettes of gyrating dancers as he flirted with an older man. He twirled a lock of his brown hair around his fingers, giggling as the man leaned forward and whispered something in his ear. Before they kissed, Charlie turned back to the bar and ordered another drink.

“Maybe some alcohol this time?” he suggested to the bartender, who in response offered a good-natured smile.

“Not a good night?” the bartender asked over the din of the club.

“It’s a fine night,” the boy said, glancing over at Sasha, who was in mid-facemash, “but another vodka tonic would make it even better.”

“I get it. You’re not a talker.” The bartender threw up his hands as if to say ‘what can you do?’ “All the same, may God’s blessing make your ‘fine’ night a great one, with a little help from the vodka, of course,” he added with a wink.

Charlie rolled his eyes as the bartender set to work on his drink. Not until the fourth time the man set to work on the drink did Charlie realize something was off.

He blinked and shook his head in disbelief. It was as if the bartender were a resetting video clip, reaching for the vodka bottle, then snapping back to position, only to repeat the same action again. “Dude, you are freaking me out,” Charlie said, but then noticed that everything, and that meant everything, from the dancers, to the music, to the beer coming out of the tap was caught in a bizarre time loop, all movements recurring in perfect synchronicity. Everything except for himself. He backed away from the bar, dodging the repeating swing of a dancer’s arm, and whispered, “This is so awesome.”

Sasha ran up to Charlie, eyes wide, yelling, “What the fuck is going on?”

Awestruck, Charlie whispered, “I think it’s the—”.

7:10 am


Charlie didn’t know why he just said ‘shrooms’. Shaking off that brief moment of confusion, he took another drag of his cigarette, remembering that, oh yeah, he was waiting for the school bus. A gust of wind sent a shiver throughout his body, and he wished he had brought a thicker coat. The other kids were gathered in an enclosed circle a few feet away to keep warm, talking and laughing with each other.

He rolled his eyes and took another drag.

The world was still cast in a dawn blue tint. A bird was chirping somewhere high up. Charlie looked at his watch, wondering where Sasha was, and then, as if to answer his question, Sasha appeared down the street, slinging a humongous backpack over his shoulders. Charlie smiled gratefully and waved at his friend. His hand slowed down as he realized this had all already happened.

11:59 pm

Charlie stopped waving. The club music was skipping the same beat, the dancers still twisting like broken corkscrews. He flexed his fingers, took a deep breath, and found his footing. Everything was okay, and still cool. All he had to do was ride out the high until the night was nothing but a good story.

He hoped that the memory would still be there in the morning.

Sasha was not so zen, muttering nonsense as he drank the shots left on the bar by the time-stuck patrons. When Charlie approached him, he snapped back, knocking over a stool. It clattered against the floor, jumped back upright, then fell again, and on it went.

“I don’t like this,” Sasha said, throwing away his empty glass, which too flew back and forth in the air, as if it couldn’t decide which end of the room it wanted to be on. “I want to go home.”

Charlie’s head jerked back. “Why do you want to go home? Sasha, this is amazing! We broke time!”

We didn’t do anything,” the younger one said, gesturing between Charlie and himself for effect. “You forced me to eat your stupid God mushrooms.”

“I didn’t force you to do anything, asshole.”

Sasha threw up his head. He knew Charlie was right. “No, you didn’t force me... but you make it impossible to say no.”

7:25 am

Charlie crossed his arms and stared out the bus window, watching the same oak tree and suburban house pass by infinite times. “I don’t see what the big deal is,” he muttered. “It’s just World History. Doesn’t have anything to do with us.”

“We’ve already skipped two classes,” Sasha reminded him. “I don’t want another absence.”

“Come on, man. We’ll go to the mall and do some shopping. Wasn’t there a pair of jeans you wanted to try on? And that yellow shirt? It’d look so hot on you. We have to go get it.”

“Charlie...” he moaned.

“It’s decided.” Charlie put an arm around Sasha’s shoulder, and squeezed gently. “Don’t worry, it’ll be fun.”

11:59 pm

Sasha shrugged Charlie’s arm off and sat at the bar in a huff. “You keep dragging me into these bad ideas, and I—I don’t know how to say no, no I don’t want to ruin my life for you.”

Charlie turned away from the blinking strobe light. His arm extended reflexively, as if a yo-yo were hanging off his fingers, something he always did when he was stressed, or hurt. He imagined his plastic toy spinning on the ground, thought of the little boy from middle school with the limp hand and awkward smile, and how he knew this boy was going to be his best friend.

I need you, Charlie wanted to say, but didn’t know how to say it. How do you say something that weak?

He extended his yo-yo arm again.

10:30 am

“Yes, Ms. Andrews?”

Everyone in class was staring at him, including Mr. Wyntok, whose frown contorted his whole face like a squished marshmallow. Charlie apologized quietly and lowered his hand

“You’re forgiven,” Mr. Wyntok said with dripping sarcasm, “but I would still like you to answer the question.”

The boy froze, not remembering what the question was, until a small whisper from behind said ‘Distance equals speed multiplied by time’. “D-Distance equals speed multiplied by time,” he repeated. Begrudgingly satisfied, Mr. Wyntok nodded and resumed his lecture. Charlie turned around and mouthed ‘Thank you’ to Sasha, who gave a small shrug and went back to scribing every word the teacher said.

Charlie fought to stay awake as Mr. Wyntok lectured in his droning voice. Math was frustrating, with all of its stupid strict rules. How great would it be if there was just one rule, and it was the same every time? Wait, that would never be possible. Something that wonderful could only exist in Heaven, and he wasn’t allowed to go there.

Rules and all that.

Losing the fight to keep his eyes open, Charlie glanced at the clock above the blackboard, and reflexively moaned. It was only 11:30 am... no—10:00 pm— wait, 5:38 am— 2:32 pm?

The clock’s hands were spinning until they were nothing but a black blur.

11:59 pm

A woman in the middle of the dance floor had been caught in mid-spin when time got fucked. Her blue dress spun like a whirlpool, throwing off waves of dazzling light. Charlie, mesmerized by the beauty of this twirling dancer, suddenly snapped to his senses when he realized Sasha was no longer by his side. He spun around and found his friend sitting at the bar, shaking his head in turnstile sweeps. Worried that Sasha got stuck in a time loop like the rest of the world, Charlie put a hand on his shoulder, which was half-heartedly shrugged away.

“I want this to stop,” Sasha whispered.

Charlie sat beside his friend, opening his mouth to say something, but quickly closed it. Then, when he realized no one could stop him, he retrieved two empty glasses from behind the bar and filled them to the foamy brim with beer. He slid one glass over to Sasha, and took a thirsty gulp of his own.

Sasha stared at his glass, took a sip, and after a long moment of consideration, said, “At least the alcohol is free.”

Charlie chuckled as he sat back down on his stool. He spun his cushion in slow circles, drinking as he gathered the courage to tell Sasha the truth. “Do you know what I was doing before I called you?”

8:20 pm

He sat on the edge of his bed, unfurling the black yo-yo, then pulling it back up like a determined fisherman. Ad nauseum. He wanted to do something else, but couldn’t find the energy to switch tasks, so on the yo-yo went along with infinite thoughts of Sasha.

Why did everything feel heavier when he wasn’t around?

Charlie slowly turned his head toward the bedside clock. 8:25 pm. It had only been a few hours since they’d last been together. How long would he have to wait until it wasn’t considered desperate to call him?

The yo-yo went down and spun its wheels.

11:59 pm

Sasha burst out laughing, spraying beer all over the counter, much to Charlie’s surprise. “That’s so sad,” he said, gasping for air, trying to restrain his chuckles, but failing miserably. “So fucking sad.”

“Stop laughing,” Charlie stammered. “It’s not funny. I— I miss you when you’re not there.”

That made Sasha laugh harder. Maybe it was the mushrooms, maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe because it was impossible imagining his friend to be so emotionally vulnerable. Whatever it was, Sasha kept laughing all the same, and soon Charlie joined him, figuring what else could he do?

When the two friends fell back from hysteria, Sasha told Charlie that it felt good to know they were equally pathetic.

1:10 pm

“Don’t laugh,” Sasha warned before he emerged from the dressing room in a flurry of color, posing like one of the marble statues in God’s promenade. A few people gave him odd stares, but Charlie had taught Sasha to ignore them a long time ago.

“What do you think?” he asked nervously, smoothing out the wrinkles in the shirt. “Was it worth missing World History for this?”

The yellow of the shirt’s fabric made Sasha’s skin glow like fire. Charlie told him he looked beautiful.

“Honest?” Sasha said, studying himself in the mirror.

He nodded, and told his friend “Always.”

Sasha shook his head with a grim smile. “If my parents saw me now, checking myself out in the mirror like some old queen, they’d flip out.”

“They’re not here,” Charlie reminded him. “Only me.”

11:59 pm

Alone, together, they sat beside a crowd of dancers whose limbs went up, and down, and up again. The music was still beating like a metronome, less music than just passing the time.

“I’m starting to like this song,” Charlie said after a loud burp.

“It’s catchy,” Sasha agreed. He let out a short-lived laugh, and then put down his glass, not speaking until the beer stilled itself. “Do you think this will ever end?”

“Eventually,” Charlie whispered. Nothing good lasts forever.

As if reading his friend’s thoughts, Sasha smiled in a mysterious way, tracing the lip of his glass with his finger. “When I first met you,” he said, “it seemed like you had all the answers, like no matter what happened, you knew what you were doing, and I could trust you. In a weird way, you made me feel safe... and in a weird way, you still do.”

“I thought I was ruining your life,” Charlie said, doing his best not to sound bitter.

“Maybe you are,” Sasha said. “But for now, that’s alright.”

Charlie, taken aback by the brutal honesty, laughed and raised his glass. “To your downfall,” he said.

Sasha clinked his glass against Charlie’s, and said, “To my downfall.”

They drank.

“So when are you going to kiss me?” Sasha asked.

Charlie nearly choked on his beer, spraying some of it on the time-stuck bartender, which made Sasha laugh more. Lit by the blinking strobes and the warm orange light from behind the bar, and smiling with a radiance unmatched by any light on Earth, Sasha looked like a piece of fallen heaven, and Charlie realized that yes, he would like very much to kiss him.

“I’m working up to it,” Charlie whispered coyly. “Give me time.”

On the dancers went to the same beat, hands up in the air, then down to the ground, and up, repeating until they were nothing but a black blur of potential energy. The two friends stayed at the bar, in silence, enjoying each other’s company as they waited for the next song to play.