The itch had been quite persistent all morning. Gus glowered at his screen, reading the same sentence on the latest clinical trials over at UC Berkeley for the fifteenth time while his immaculate fingernails dug into the fabric of his pants. Shortly after, they traveled up to his midsection.
His phone rang. The display flashed the Psych office extension, so Gus’ eyes flicked back to his article, letting the voicemail kick in. A minute later his cell phone started vibrating, and this time he didn’t even bother checking caller ID. His fingers now clawed at his left forearm.
A plopping noise sounded from his laptop’s speakers, and an orange and white notification appeared at the bottom right corner of his screen.
dude stop igboring me!!!!!!!! :( :( flashed for a few seconds before the notification vanished and left behind a blinking icon in his task bar.
*ignoring popped up, accompanied by the same distracting sound.freudian strip
Gus tuned it out for all of two seconds before he opened up the messenger and typed: It’s Freudian slip, and you’re not using it in the proper context.
w/e came the immediate response. whatcha up to
Gus changed his availability status to “away”. He scratched his neck.
A crying face popped up, then another one half a second later, and a third half a second after that.
Gus finally snapped when the itch spread to the top of his perfectly shaped head. He pushed his laptop shut and got up, now using both hands to scratch the various offending areas at the same time. He grabbed his sample case and stormed out of his office, mumbling something about a doctor’s appointment as he passed his boss’ secretary. Not that he needed it. He had just recently acquired samples for a new line of itch-reducing salves to last him for the next couple days.
The phone in his pocket kept vibrating every couple minutes, letting him know his best friend and business partner was still bored out of his mind. Gus glared at his messages for the duration of the elevator ride down to the ground floor and then switched his phone to silent. It was probably Shawn’s fault anyway that he was currently scratching off the top two or three layers of his epidermis. Maybe he had infected him with some disease from the latest stray he had dragged into the office, animal or human. Or maybe prolonged exposure had finally made Gus allergic to his bullshit.
It was Friday, so Gus locked his apartment door including the three dead bolts – in case a certain someone decided to come by in person –, covered every inch of his skin in ointments and creams, and spent the rest of the day sitting on his hands to keep from scratching the already scabbing areas while distracting himself with an auto-play extravaganza of Netflix nature documentaries. He continued the same procedure for most of the next day, avoiding mirrors so that he wouldn’t have to see the rash that had begun blooming along the left underside of his jaw, and only stopping in his routine to raid his pantry of what few groceries he had stored in there.
By Sunday evening he was all out of comfort food. For half an hour he debated whether dressing up in the Freddy mask stored at the very back of his closet would improve his situation and not scare away any unsuspecting student unlucky enough to deliver his take-out. But then his gaze fell onto the sizeable amount of messages his phone had accumulated over the past two days and he thought better of it.
Shawn picked up after what could have barely been half a ring.
“Buddy!” came the somewhat cheerful greeting. “I’m surprised you still remember me. Unless you dialed this number by mistake, in which case: Hi, this is Shawn Spencer, we used to hang out in kindergarten and the commencing three decades until you suddenly stopped talking to me.”
Gus waited patiently for the rant to stop and said: “I need a favor. I’m out of food and I need you to go by the pharmacy for some Flucinola Hi S.”
There was a pregnant pause on the other end.
“Dude, you’ve got the plague?”
“It’s eczema, and how do you even know what that stuff is for?”
“Contrary to popular belief I do sometimes listen to your opening monologue whenever you practice your newest presentation, even though you think you’re only mouthing it to yourself instead of saying it out loud.”
“I do this at work. My real work,” Gus pointed out.
“Goes to show how much you pay attention to your colleagues. You haven’t even noticed your neighboring office has technically been vacant for the past month, except it wasn’t because, let’s face it, most people at Central Coast think I work there anyway, and your WiFi is so much faster than the one in the Psych office…”
“You’re leeching off my company’s internet?” Gus said, momentarily overwhelmed with the amount of material to comment on.
“No more buffering, Gus.”
Gus took a deep breath, letting it out in an inaudible sigh as he worked through his friend’s confessions. Deciding it wasn't worth getting agitated by, he swallowed all the responses battling each other to be voiced first. He needed to focus on the most pressing matter.
“Are you going to help me out or what?”
“And risk contracting the Black Death from you?” Shawn countered, sounding mildly disgusted.
“I don’t have the plague, Shawn!” Gus cried, starting to scratch again without thinking.
“Dude, you should eat a Milky Way.”
“It’s a Snickers, and I’m not being a diva. What was that about kindergarten and three decades of being stuck with you?”
“That was before I knew you had a deadly disease. As you will remember, paragraph 6 section 17 of the friendship code states that no best friend shall pass on his contagious germs to the other.”
Gus had to think on this for a little while, scratching away before catching himself and shoving his offending appendage into his pajama pocket. He paced in a tight circle.
“I don’t even think this really is contagious, and besides, what happened to taking one for the team?”
“No can do, buddy, the secret friendship code is sacred.”
“It isn’t whenever you are sick with the newest bout of bird flu or whatever.” Gus was becoming a bit woozy, so he changed direction.
“Please, Gus, I have an impeccable immune system, because unlike you I was never above eating dirt as a kid.”
“That was disgusting then and is disgusting now.”
“But look which one of us ended up with the bacterium from the Middle Ages.”
“That doesn’t even have anything to with anything–”
“Anyway,” Shawn cut him off, stopping any further argument he might have had. “I’m busy shooting birds at neon green pigs, so if you’ll excuse me…”
Before Gus could say anything else, the dial tone penetrated his ear drum. He glared at his phone in utter disbelief. Then he opened up his calendar and made a note to call his lawyer first thing in the morning to remove Shawn from his will.
Gus spent another ten minutes walking circles in his living room before he decided to go to bed. It wasn’t even eight yet but sleep sounded better than listening to his growling stomach for one more minute.
It took half an hour for his brain to finally calm down and stop throwing imaginary insults at his so called best friend on loop. He had found lying on his belly to be the most comfortable position, face buried in his pillow, and soon he drifted off to sleep. His rest was short-lived, though, for what felt like only a few minutes after closing his eyes, a loud, banging sound roused him from his slumber. For a disorienting moment, Gus wasn’t sure whether he was dreaming or awake, but his clock reading 8:56 spoke for the latter option. There were shuffling sounds coming from somewhere in his apartment, his foggy mind making it hard to locate directions.
He stumbled out of bed, one hand on his rumbling tummy and the other scratching his neck. He took the mini bat he had brought home from the office some time ago and crept out of his room. Starting to get his bearings, Gus was able to discern the shuffling coming from the living room where the light from the street lamps along the sidewalk filtered through the windows. Gus lowered his weapon.
“Shawn?” he said, not nearly as surprised as he should have been.
Startled, Shawn spun around, banging his foot against a chair.
“Oww,” he yelped, doing a comical one legged dance. He balanced a cardboard box on his hands, barely keeping it from toppling over.
Gus reached out his arm and turned on the light. Shawn jerked back.
“Dude, stay where you are!” he said, holding out the box in front of him as if it were a shield.
Gus rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “I told you I’m not contagious.”
“You said you think you’re not.”
Gus held up his hands in a placating gesture. Scratching himself in front of his friend probably wouldn’t help his cause.
“How did you even get in here? I have three deadbolts!”
“Please, Gus, as if something like that could stop me.”
Gus looked past his friend, searching for any sign of forced entry. Then his gaze landed on the window in the adjacent kitchen that stood slightly ajar.
“Shawn, I’m on the third floor!”
A shrug was all he got. But at that point, Gus’ attention had started honing in on the box anyway. His super sniffer had picked up a most delicious scent.
“I brought you blueberry pie.”
Instinct taking over, Gus pounced. Shawn shrieked and jumped backwards, crashing into the chair he had just stubbed his toe on, and held the box as far away from himself as his arms allowed. Gus snatched it up and shuffled over towards the kitchen aisle. He didn’t care if he gave off the impression of a feral animal sinking its fangs into its prey. His fork was deadly and precise, and his stomach demanding a sacrifice. For a minute he forgot all about his backstabbing visitor turned savior.
Shawn continued keeping his distance but watched with curious fascination. From a rucksack Gus hadn’t noticed him wearing before, he produced a brown grocery bag he dumped on the kitchen counter before unpacking it and putting random items into his fridge and pantry. Gus stopped devouring his cake only long enough to point out that he didn’t really know what to do with a pack of tortillas, coconut milk, two glasses of pickled onions, what looked like five lemons, and the obligatory pineapple.
“Couldn’t you have brought something more sensible I can actually make into a meal?”
Shawn smacked his lips. “Maaan, don’t be an ungrateful 15-year-old on a family vacation.” With those words, he went back into his rucksack and revealed two take-out containers. The spicy aroma wafted over to where Gus sat hunched over his pie. “I also brought jerk chicken.”
Gus took a deep breath, savoring the moment. One of the containers was deposited in front of him with a tube of Flucinola Hi S before Shawn quickly made his way to the far end of the aisle and sat down himself.
Gus made a mental note to delete the appointment with his lawyer. Shawn was worthy to inherit his thunder cats collection after all.