“Did you honestly just fart?”
He stared at the ground in embarrassment. He hadn’t meant to, it sort of fell out. And how could she blame him? They had been trapped in the elevator for over twenty minutes.
But at the sudden accusation, his stomach felt as though it had begun to shrink into his intestines. The next one squirmed its way out, squealing like breaks on a ninety-nine Honda Civic—there was no denying his guilt now.
“I’m sorry!” he blurted, his face crimson red.
“Oh my gosh, seriously? We are trapped in a small elevator, do you think this is funny?”
The woman in the white suit continued to stare at him from beneath a furrowed brow as an awkward pause dragged on.
“No, I didn’t mean to. And the second one, well, I get gassy when I’m nervous or embarrassed.” His explanation may have not been convincing to her, but his logic in regards to his untimely bodily function was solid. She, too, would become bloated with gas in many such circumstances, but had always maintained control.
“I am sorry, though, um?”
“Wendy.” She replied blandly, looking away from him.
He offered his hand. “I’m Gideon. Pleasure to meet you.”
“I wish I could say the same.”
She looked at him again briefly, but did not return his gesture.
Gideon’s hands were sweating; he hadn’t noticed that his thumb and forefinger were rubbing together so firmly it was creating a slip and slide effect. “Oh, well perhaps I can change that. Who knows how long we will be trapped in here, eh?”
But Wendy did not appreciate this sentiment and began tapping her expensive magenta heels on the carpeted elevator floor.
With the mood already dampened in the small space—and in fear of igniting further uncontrollable gas—he desperately searched for the right words to begin a conversation. Being social had always been a struggle for him, but such entrapment, he figured, must inspire some sort of long-lost bravery.
“So, what was your business here? Vitamin store? New furniture, or Bell maybe? New phone?”
“You’re quite nosy aren’t you? Isn’t that my business?” she sighed.
Despite his effort, the looming awkwardness prevailed. This also made Wendy uneasy as she glanced down at her golden watch numerous times before pretending to adjust the minute hand; this small amount of control over time gave her enough satisfaction to get through the moment.
“I was sending a parcel to my mother at the post office.” She finally gave in.
In an attempt to convey interest, Gideon nodded as his bottom lip puckered slightly. He was still unsure of how to carry the conversation, as he didn’t expect her to cooperate in the first place.
“And you?” she replied reluctantly.
“Oh, right. I was in the vitamin store.”
Wendy stared at him in disbelief.
“Looking for, um, something to help with the gas!” He smirked at her, desperately hoping she would buy it.
After pondering his desperately brutal attempts to make her acquaintance, Wendy began to laugh under her breath. Gideon suddenly felt more relaxed and joined in the humor.
“I have an idea. Have you ever played twenty questions?”
She rolled her eyes, but was still smiling. “Of course I have, it’s the most conventional structure of a first date. And tacky, might I add. But we are not on a first date.”
“No, of course not. But,” Wendy glanced back at him and the pressure elevated, “it could be fun. What's the harm? Ten questions?” He was joking around now, fishing for her smile again, but she only stared at him. “You can ask first? Anything you want!”
“Fine. Five questions.”
“Whoa, come on now, that’s not how bartering works,” he said through a grin.
“True, but a man can’t barter with a woman.”
“That’s true,” he admitted, quite willingly.
“All right then.” She paused, subtly examining Gideon’s attire. “Why a rose with thorns?” she asked pointing at his shirt.
He glanced down before meeting her eyes again. “This? It’s from the Poison reunion tour of ninety-nine, of course! ‘Every rose has its thorn, just like every cowboy—‘”
“No, no singing!” Wendy snapped, before laughing at his half-assed attempt at the famous song. The truth was, she knew exactly what the rose meant—she had, in fact, the same t-shirt—and it was her favorite band before she stopped listening to music altogether. Although she couldn't quite put her finger on what is was about Gideon, he made her forget about her troubles and want to indulge in every moment.
Wendy's grin grew until she could no longer keep her perfectly white teeth from showing. “Plus you’re singing it wrong,” she giggled vainly, and then paused again. “Just like every night has its dawn…”
Although her lyrics were less musical than his, he appreciated her enthusiasm and smiled coyly.
They both blurted out the rest of the chorus together in harmony, “just like every cowboy sings his sad, sad song. Every rose has its thorn!”
“Not bad, but the tone is more soft,” Gideon remarked through a smile; he couldn't help but be impressed, nodding his head but keeping his eyes on her pearly grin.
“Hah, whatever! I was at that concert too, and from my amazing seats, it sounded pretty sharp.”
Wendy's body recoiled as she looked away—perhaps in slight embarrassment from singing with a stranger, he thought to himself.
“All right, all right, my turn!” He crossed his arms, and his lips pursed as he tried to think of a good question.
The elevator creaked as another swooshed past them before the faint sounds disappeared above them. They noticed the previously-lit buttons on the panel suddenly went out, and Gideon figured they must have disconnected it in order to open the door from the other side. Wendy's breath stuttered, and he knew he had to be her best distraction.
“What’s your zodiac sign?”
After a long moment, she finally pulled her eyes away from the panel and took a deep breath.
“So you’re a believer in that stuff, eh?” Her hand was on her hip in such a way, it reminded Gideon of how a toddler might stand if they wanted to express attitude to an elder.
He scoffed in a humorous manner. “Hey, it’s my turn to ask the question. And whether I believe in that stuff or not is irrelevant.” Now he felt like a toddler.
“What?” Wendy questioned almost angrily.
“Well, you know what they say about Taurus folk like yourself. They’re stubborn, blunt, and always get off on the wrong foot with acquaintances they meet in elevators!”
“Well that is not specific at all,” Wendy laughed at her own sarcasm. “So you must be an expert on horoscopes?” This made Gideon smile; ironically, he didn’t even know his own horoscope until he was twenty-five.
“That’s your second question!”
“What? No, it was simply an observation from your answer!”
“That’s not how the game works, Wendy.”
She found herself at a loss for words and she glanced at her reflection before looking back to him. Gideon held his smile, but could feel his heart pounding in his chest.
“Well I say it is, Gideon,” she rebutted. “And what sort of name is that anyway? Sounds like something from a fairy tale!” She said with a raised eyebrow and a grin.
“See, blunt stubbornness! You are losing the game, that was a third question, and it wasn’t even your turn,” he coaxed.
“I am not stubborn. Blunt maybe, but only when I’m confronted with immature strangers who let one rip in an elevator! Twice!”
“Hey now, that time has passed. Now are you done being stubborn so we can continue with the game?” Gideon asked jokingly.
Wendy didn’t answer, instead she rolled her eyes; although she couldn’t exactly justify her slight irritancy at his petty yet harmless accusations, she hated being wrong.
“I’m just getting frustrated with how long this is taking!” She began banging on the elevator door. “Hurry up and fix the damn thing so I can get on with my life!”
Gideon became quiet. He wondered if he had crossed the line with a mere stranger. Although, even on a good day, he didn’t know where any line would be if it had previously been drawn in the first place.
She turned to face the mirror, which reflected her frustration numerous times all over the small room—there was no escaping his eyes—and she suddenly felt claustrophobic, despite the illusion of a long hallway.
Another twenty minutes had passed, and each second seemed to drag its feet through the mud. The noises on the other side had stopped, and Wendy now feared that they had given up and gone home.
Gideon sat with his legs extended, one crossed over the other, leaning up against the mirrored wall. It felt warmer in the elevator now, almost a musty, humid heat like being in a crowded bar. Having taken off his jacket to use for a head rest, he closed his eyes, squinting slightly from the bright bulbs.
Wendy, on the other hand, paced around the elevator in her socks. However, her suit jacket remained firmly against her breast, despite her flushed cheeks—she wasn't quite ready to flaunt her bit of ink, or reveal that laundry day had her wearing an old leopard-print bra. Even the possibility of his slumber didn’t stop her from voicing her impatience. How can he nap right now? she thought. This particularly irritated her, since she typically had a difficult time sleeping under good circumstances.
“How much longer?” Wendy finally let out with a vigorous sigh. “And how the hell are you able to nap at a time like this?”
Without moving or twitching an eye lid, he answered, “I’m not sleeping. I’m resting my eyes. What else are we supposed to do to pass the time?”
To this, she didn’t reply. Instead, she sat down in a huff. Finally succumbing to the heat and because his eyes were closed, she ripped off her jacket violently and tossed it at the door. After a few more moments of silence, she looked to Gideon and sighed softly in a tired manner. “You never answered my question.”
Only one eye opened to meet her humble gaze. “I’m no expert in horoscopes. In fact, I didn’t know my own for the longest time. Then I found out I was an Aquarius when someone shared a thing on Facebook.” This made Wendy bow her head in order to hide her uncontrollable smile, as she realized that he had answered what she really wanted to know; perhaps he wasn’t so immature—or perhaps, she feared, he had grown tired of her attitude, as most people did. He opened both eyes now and looked up at her. The corner of his lips rose slightly, revealing a subtle smile. As she looked back at him, she noticed, for the first time, his eye color—a pale, icy blue, which contrasted his thick, black eyelashes and hair.
“What’s your tattoo for? On your arm.”
She had almost forgotten as she glanced down at the elegant blue rose on her upper bicep; although, she was thankful for the absence of comments on her obnoxious under-garments. “It’s a tribute for my mother. She passed away last year. Cancer.”
A look of confusion was apparent on Gideon’s face as his eyebrows contorted. Assuming the reason for his confusion, Wendy continued. “I wasn’t here mailing a parcel. I was just leaving the psychologist office on the eighth floor.” She looked at her reflection solemnly. Surprised by sudden honesty, he sat upright.
“I’m sorry. About your mother I mean. That’s tough. I’ve lost an uncle to cancer. It’s not the same as a mother, but…never mind. I don’t mean to sound insensitive.”
“Thank you. For your condolences I mean.” They exchanged smiles. Wendy felt her walls soften, for she appreciated his focus on her mother and not the reason for her “shrink” visit, as she called it. Wendy pushed her dark brown hair behind one ear.
“So, my turn again, right? Why were you really here? I know you weren’t in a vitamin store,” she remarked through a laugh before he joined. “Well, I was also leaving the psychologist office. In fact, I saw you leave just before I did.”
“You knew this whole time that I was there? Why didn’t you didn’t say anything?” He shrugged his shoulders.
“It wasn’t my business as to why you didn’t want to share. It’s an understandably private thing.” Wendy shuddered, suddenly feeling bad for asking why he was really in the building.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to—”
“It’s okay, I don’t see it as a big deal anymore. Everyone has issues in some way or another.” He scratched his head before continuing, “I have chronic social anxiety. Been going for a few years now.”
“Well that would explain the gas!” For a moment, she felt like she may have crossed the line into the insensitive, but when Gideon burst out laughing, she couldn’t help but giggle. Their laughter echoed in room, filling the empty spaces as their eyes held their connection. Gideon was the first to break eye contact.
He smoothed his bunched up jeans in an effort to subtly wipe his sweaty hands. All fell silent once again. “I was bullied for years in elementary school because I was never any good at making friends. Didn’t even have the courage to tell anybody, my dad only found out because one day I came home with two big black eyes. Couldn’t blame the wall or stairs anymore, hah! Honestly, if you hadn’t spoken up first, I never would have started a conversation. I’ve never even been in a relationship.” Although neither of them realized it, Wendy and Gideon no longer needed their game to open up to each other. “What about you? What are you in for?”
She took a deep breath, but no matter how she tried to start, she simply couldn’t get it out. “Never mind that. Tell me about your mother.” His face was gentle, but the slight stubble on his cheeks added a pinch of roughness. To her amazement, although Wendy typically disliked facial hair on men—she thought it made them look lazy and un-kept—she found his to be particularly ‘kept’ and therefore, attractive.
“She was a realtor, and a funny woman! Not like me.”
“Yeah, your attempt at sarcasm is in the low single digits if we were to rate your humor.” She could now hear the innocence in his voice, was it there all along? She wondered.
“Well, my mom was definitely funny. She always knew how to turn a grim situation around. Actually, she is the reason I’m seeing a psychologist.” After a moment to collect her thoughts, she continued. “Unlike most, her cancer wasn’t an ongoing battle. One minute she was healthy and happy, and the next she was coming home from the doctor’s office to tell my sister and I that she only had a month, maybe two, to live. It was so sudden, it destroyed my family.”
Gideon was speechless, but he could see the still-fresh agony in her eyes. He shuffled to sit beside her and placed his hand on hers. It was the only way he could console her when words were as fleeting as they usually were in such circumstances. Although his illness sheltered him from many human emotions, crippling his ability to forage positive relationships, he felt something he could never identify with before—this must be what courage feels like.
“We never really had the time to digest her situation and prepare. My sister couldn’t cope, so she sort of distanced herself.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “Right off the bat it was doctor appointments, driving her to chemo, holding her hair back as she vomited in the night. And after a while, her hair would fall out in your hand, and I would have to try to get rid of it without her noticing.”
Wendy teared up before wiping away the single tear that escaped her eye. He could feel her attempts to control her breathing, as her muscles tensed up then relaxed again. “Now apparently I suffer from OCPD. ‘Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.’ The psych thinks it stemmed from having to suddenly care for my mom twenty-four-seven, all the while having to control my emotions,” he suddenly looked at her and thought of his own issue with emotions. “I could never seem weak; I had to stay strong for her. I was all she had. But that meant repressing everything I felt. And now, I don’t know how to feel anything anymore because I am still constantly controlling myself, my surroundings. I don’t know how to be me anymore. I just condemn people and refuse to let my walls down.”
Now words were flowing in abundance and he broke the silence. “I wouldn’t say you’re as emotionally absent as you think you are. You’re giving yourself way too much credit.” She looked at Gideon, who was smiling again. “Seems to me you just needed a stranger to talk to. Someone you won’t have to see again, and therefore you risk no embarrassment. You’ve already made progress, Wendy.”
“Well, I don’t think telling a stranger my sob story while trapped in an elevator is much progress.”
“Sure it is! Have you ever done that before?” he asked through a grin—he knew the answer. She nodded thoughtfully at his obvious, yet truthful, observation. Finally returning his smile, her watery eyes began to dry; somehow his sarcasm and petty attempts at consoling made her feel better. Although she could not make logical sense out of it, Wendy began to find him charming, especially for someone who was not exactly her type and who had social anxiety.
“Looks like we’re both making progress then,” she replied giddily.
A loud shudder, followed by numerous voices, startled the two, who were now nestled together in the corner drifting into slumber.
“What was that?” Gideon exclaimed, sitting upright and causing Wendy’s body to nearly tip over.
“Oh, I think they are finally getting the door open!” She came to her feet excitedly in anticipation of entering the real world once again. Using one of the mirrors, she buttoned up her suit jacket and fixed her hair. Gideon, on the other hand, could have cared less about re-dressing in such a moment.
As the elevator doors began to be wedged open inch by inch, they looked to each other in such a way that one would be unsure of whether it was in “relief” or “disappointment.” The time had finally come, they would once again be two people with two different lives, going their separate ways.
Wendy was the first to pull her eyes away, as if they were clawing to hold on. Had she lost control?
After having revealed so much about herself—nearly abandoning the reserved, controlling, and serious person she knew in well comfort—she was unable to deny the memorable time she had had with a complete stranger. To her surprise, this made exiting back into her reality seem bitterly dull.
Gideon, too, drew his attention back to the elevator doors. A crow-bar and a wedge had them a few inches apart now. But noticing this, he felt a sudden rush of uneasy emotion that seemed to pull him back into the same lonely place which had always kept him isolated, but at least safe.
Although his hands began to sweat, he wasn’t feeling his stomach begin to bloat with gas, and for the first time in his life, he felt emboldened.
“So I believe I had one question left.”
She turned to face him, smiling in relief that he wasn’t too hesitant to say something before it was too late.
To her dismay, Gideon hesitated. His mind was flooded with decisions, ones that were easy and ones that he couldn’t quite interpret in the pressure of the moment—maybe he wasn’t cut out for this.
But as the elevator doors finally opened wide enough to reveal two firefighters and one security guard, the fresh air washed over him and he gently grasped Wendy’s arm before she could walk out of his life.
“Date with me?” His words spewed out in a hasty and incoherent manner.
“What?” she took a step toward him.
Gideon inhaled heavily and his hand slid down her arm to grasp her hand. “Wendy, would you go on a date with me?”
“I’m glad you asked, because I was out of questions.”