An excerpt from Impacted
The engine of Wade’s Prius was running but, as usual, made no sound. And Wade just sat in the driver’s seat, staring at the door of the dental office, trying to motivate himself to damn move. Five minutes passed, then ten. And Wade just sat there, contemplating his situation, weighing the options. If you sit long enough in a hybrid car, it doesn’t even hum. It just pauses, waiting for you to shift a gear or turn off the ignition or something. Twenty minutes, Wade sat there, staring, waiting, hating himself and sipping on a cup of lukewarm black tea. Should he just leave? Should he cause a scene? Because Wade couldn’t unfuck his dentist or reverse the Prius down the road to Hell he’d been traveling for two months, he had to come up with another solution.
At the start of their dealings in December, Wade and Dr. Emmett used to sit in this parking lot, just talking, then not talking, then not talking. Dr. Emmett would marvel about the blue Prius. He drove a red Jeep that announced itself in every way possible, so Dr. Emmett appreciated that Wade’s car was so nondescript and discreet.
“Even your car knows to keep quiet about this,” the good doctor whispered to him from below the steering wheel on that first night it went too far.
Wade couldn’t even look at Dr. Emmett that night, he had to close his eyes and just escape from it, the reality of it, as though closing his eyes would make him less complicit in the deception. His face tightened and tightened its grip on his eyelids the more he worried.
“You OK?” Dr. Emmett had asked that night.
Wade wouldn’t open his eyes. So, Dr. Emmett hesitated, but Wade didn’t want that either.
“Just do it,” Wade instructed the oral surgeon.
“We can stop, kid,” Dr. Emmett said. “If you don’t wanna...”
Wade huffed, then pushed down the dentist’s blond head.
“We’re already doing it, Doctor, so just do it.”
Now Wade sat there alone and waiting. Again. Staring at the clock. Cursing his dead smartphone, waiting for it to resurrect on the charger. He couldn’t even listen to a damn audiobook to pass the time.
Maybe the radio, he thought. Then I wouldn’t just be sitting here like a madman. Maybe I wouldn’t just be staring at the clock or waiting for my damn phone then.
Wade switched on the radio. It was NPR. Stuff about Trump. Wade switched it off before it killed his erection and just rattled his nerves. Things were tense enough in his head. Wade didn’t need added noise from the outside world. Wade wanted this to be the last time.
A mom and kid passed the car, no one Wade knew. The clock said 5:24 p.m. Dr. Emmett should be out by now. He knew they’d planned to talk. That fucker was avoiding him.
Wade turned off the ignition on the off chance that it somehow saved him gas, though he had no idea how the inner mechanics of a Prius worked. Wade didn’t have his dad’s know-how. Wade knew nothing. So much nothing. What happens when a smart kid learns nothing useful? He ends up waiting to speak to better men who know how to do things, waiting for them to notice him. The hanger-on. The shadow. The pest.
Why was he even there? What did he really want to do with this man? Was it another rendezvous or a reckoning?
“You think too much,” the doctor had told him, right before their first lunch break. It started during Wade’s lunch breaks from work, this “friendship.”
Maybe he should just go inside the office. He could charge his phone, at least, while he was waiting. It wouldn’t be the first time. Wade should just walk in. Nobody in there would care, after all. Most people in that whole damn complex beat it at 4:45 p.m. His assistant Celeste even left early from the office on Wednesdays to get her son. He would just look like another patient, the last patient of the day. No one would care—except Dr. Emmett. Dr. Emmett might rage. And shout. And push Wade against a wall. And leave bite marks. That would be worth it.
The jackass was keeping him waiting. Wade opened the car door, then removed the key when his Prius noticed some unfinished business and started dinging at him.
All Wade could think about was Dr. Emmett, who rattled around his head every day having imaginary conversations with him. Sometimes his version of Dr. Emmett whispered something to him, sometimes the version shouted. The best thoughts of Dr. Emmett were memories: that day they went to the lake, the time he only wore his lab coat, how he always had lollipops in his pocket. Sometimes, in Wade’s head, Dr. Emmett was just mad or annoyed or puzzled. Wade couldn’t tell how Dr. Emmett actually felt.
When Wade reached the office, it wasn’t locked, but there was no one manning the front desk. He took a breath and entered. Dr. Emmett’s waiting room had those cream-colored sofas that had phone chargers embedded into their armrests, the ones that were USB-ready. Dr. Emmett bragged on his furniture, saying those seats had been a real hit with the customers. Sometimes they didn’t even mind the wait. Time on your phone is time in your head. Time in your head passes at a different speed than real life. Wade plugged in the phone and its cord, then laid it face down on the chair. He didn’t sit. He stood at the center of the waiting room, taking in the view.
Dr. Emmett’s office wallpaper was a full New York skyline. Standing at the center of the lobby was supposed to make you feel on top of the world. Dr. Emmett told him they could go anywhere if things were different. Wade wanted to believe him.
But we exist in suburbs, Dr. Emmett. We could walk to a Kroger from here. Escape is momentary, even from the lies we tell ourselves. A dentist’s office is intended for pain. We can numb ourselves to it, cover it in a shiny veneer, but all the pretending is a lie. Happiness isn’t possible here. We just fuck around with each other and fuck each other up.
The speakers blared some soft rock or something. The clock on the wall read 5:37 p.m.
Wade’s eyes narrowed, alongside his patience. His mind raced. What exactly was forbidden about being in Dr. Emmett’s office? His back teeth were floating, as well. So he opened the door out of the waiting area and made his way to the unisex bathroom down the darkened hallway with Chicago along its walls, feeling his way along the counters. Wade helped himself to a mint. His fingertips grazed the braces on a ceramic mouth model. Then, he heard a mutter come from an exam room on the left, then some giggling. Light, airy giggling, as though Dr. Emmett didn’t have anyone waiting on him.
The exam room door was open only a smidge, but the bathroom was right next door. So, Wade entered the bathroom, pulled the knob before shutting it so that there was no click, no sign that he was anywhere he shouldn’t be. Wade listened at the wall, feeling terribly old-fashioned, before biology reminded him of his actual reason for being in the bathroom. He unzipped his fly, then took aim against the side of the bowl, praying that one drop would not betray him. He wanted to eavesdrop, not dribble. He listened to see what was occupying Dr. Emmett’s time, which was supposed to be their time together. Perhaps a patient needed an emergency crown. Maybe the
laughing gas was leaking, and everyone was in danger, and Wade could save them. Maybe it’s good that he was there, sneaking around his lover’s office.
It was his duty to listen. His bladder empty, Wade stayed put, sitting on the commode, ear to the wall again. Who gives a damn if it’s old-fashioned? Wade listened closely for the reason he’d been ignored.
On the other side of the wall, Wade’s answer came.
Dr. Emmett’s voice sounded annoyed, desperate. He was pleading with someone.
“... No, I need you to listen to me for once, damn it. I’m tired of going over this,” Dr. Emmett said. “Are you gonna... Hello... Hello??”
Wade heard Dr. Emmett slam his fist down on his desk.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” the dentist shouted. “Fucking hold again... You suck, Daphne!”
The dentist hit a key on his phone, then slammed down the receiver. A light, cheery symphony filled the air.
Taking quick advantage of the moment, Wade stood from the toilet, exited the bathroom for the Chicago-lined hallway and then said, in as innocent a tone as he could adopt, “Hello…??? Hello???!!!”
He meandered slowly down the hallway, as though it was the first time he’d been here.
“Wade? ... Wade, what are you—” Dr. Emmett called.
A moment passed. A button clicked. The symphony died. A brief rustling came from the exam room, then Dr. Emmett poked his head into the hallway.
“Wade, it’s so good to see you,” Dr. Emmett said without smiling, but he didn’t move from the doorway. “But I thought you were going to wait in your car. I should only be a few minutes.”
Wade glared at the older man, noting the wrinkles in his brow. Dr. Emmett could be worried. Dr. Emmett could be angry. Real Dr. Emmett was such a mystery, unlike the Dr. Emmett who wandered across Wade’s mind every day. That one nibbled at him, taunted him, kissed him. Wade had no idea how to read this real Dr. Emmett.
Wade approached the dentist inch by inch, walking past John Hancock toward the Sears Tower as though he were covering the actual blocks.
“Dr. Emmett, it’s been an hour I’ve been outside,” Wade said calmly. “I saw your last patient leave already. Some lady and her son, right?”
Dr. Emmett nodded but came no closer.
“An hour, sir,” Wade repeated. Wade dropped his head in disappointment, he didn’t blink. “You summoned me here, and you kept me waiting an hour.”
“I’m sorry, Wade.”
“Why?” Wade blurted.
“I’m sorry I kept you waiting, Wade,” Dr. Emmett muttered. “I guess that was rude.”
Dr. Emmett rolled his eyes and changed his approach. His demeanor shifted toward menace, and he finally stepped out of the doorway, toward the counter.
“Whatever. You’re here now. In my fucking workplace.”
“I had to use the bathroom, sir.”
Dr. Emmett stepped closer to Wade, then past Wade.
Then he opened the damn door back into the lobby for Wade, waving for him to follow. Like it was nothing. Like they didn’t have plans. Like he was just dismissed. Like it was so easy. Like Wade was disposable. Wade, dumbstruck, just stood there. And eventually Dr. Emmett had
“Well, Wade, now that you’re finished, could you leave my office before someone sees you?”
Wade’s eyes widened.
“Who the hell would even see me? You’re here alone.”
“We have cameras. We have security guards. And, more important than all of that, I have boundaries that I already told you, Wade.”
“We met here, Dr. Emmett,” Wade asserted. “You’re my damn dentist. Why the fuck couldn’t I just need an emergency crown or something? It’s conceivable that I’d be here.”
Dr. Emmett’s veins bulged in his forehead.
“Listen to me, Wade,” he said. “If you don’t leave here right now, you’re going to need a goddamn emergency crown.”
Wade was stung, but he didn’t back down.
“I thought you liked my mouth this way,” Wade said.
Dr. Emmett smirked, not about to be outsmarted, “You can tell people that just as easily as I can, Wade—which is why I know you won’t.”
“I could cause a lot of trouble for you, Doctor.”
“You can’t threaten me, Wade,” Dr. Emmett said. “You have too much to lose. Just go.”
“Why’d you keep me waiting if you just want me to go?”
Dr. Emmett paused. “It’s not like there’s anywhere you have to be, Wade. Your whole life is spent just filling time.”
“What?” Wade said, approaching the counter, trying to steady his sudden nerves.
“Go home, Wade. I’m not in the mood for you right now.”
Dr. Emmett hit the light switch outside his office, illuminating the hallway where they stood. Wade’s eyes squinted, the blue of them sparkling in the track lighting.
“There,” Dr. Emmett scoffed. “Now you can see your way out.”
Wade recoiled, turned toward the lobby, then couldn’t motivate himself to just walk away from the good dentist.
“Doc, will I hear from you tonight?” Wade wondered. “I mean, if you’re more in the mood to talk later.”
“I don’t think so, Wade,” Dr. Emmett said. “You crossed a line.”
Wade was unsure exactly how he had crossed one. He’d dated people before. He’d gone to see them at work. It hadn’t been a big deal. It certainly wasn’t a make-it-or-break- it situation. Granted, Dr. Emmett wasn’t like anyone Wade had ever been with in many ways. The fact that he found him attractive at all had been surprising. Dr. Emmett had been so persuasive in the beginning, when Wade was so confused.
Once again, Wade was confused, and Dr. Emmett was so certain.
“Look, I don’t get this,” Wade confessed, still afraid to look at the dentist. To look at him, it might be over. Over over. “I never know where I stand with you.”
“You don’t stand anywhere with me, Wade.”
The office phone rang.
“I really have to get that,” the dentist said. “You interrupted me before.”
Dr. Emmett walked behind the reception desk and picked up the line. He eyed Wade’s back, and Wade started to go away.
“Yes, Daphne, hello,” Dr. Emmett muttered into the phone, his tone more chipper and professional. He turned away from Wade and leaned against the counter. “Did you and the good folks ever track down where my damn sofa is? Or do I have to wait another full day for delivery?”
“Daphne, I don’t want to hear any excuses,” Dr. Emmett said. “My time is valuable, and I can’t just be waiting around for you like a putz.”
Enraged, Wade turned, huffed and grabbed the ceramic mouth model up off the counter. The jawbone connected to the back of Dr. Emmett’s skull before he got out another word. Wade felt the crack more than heard it. The dentist slumped to the ground behind the desk. Wade looked down upon his lover. With the mandible firmly in his grasp and with Daphne saying “Hello... hello...,” he walked through the lobby and out the door. Wade reached the Prius, opened the door, tossed the teeth into the passenger seat. Then, he took another swig of the tea, which was cold now. And Wade drove away, the engine barely even purring as the car exited the parking lot.