Breaking the Cycle

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
I was perched on a bench outside Burge Residence Hall in an effort to look as pretentious as possible. My old friend Amelia called me as I read a book of poetry with my legs daintily crossed, my coat catching under gusts of frigid wind. It was maybe 2:56 pm, I think.
"Wanna get lunch with me?" she asked, voice crackly through my speaker. "Catlett's already closed but if we walk fast, maybe we'll make it to Burge before 3 o'clock."
Within a couple minutes or so, I was stumbling behind her through the double doors in front of Burge, a book-stuffed tote bag clutched at my side. Blood stained our tongues, our throats burned from running hard. We fumbled to get our IDs out from between the pages of prose we somehow left them in, sliding them through the card reader right at 2:59. Our panting breaths drowned out the cashier's annoyance.
We got Styrofoam prison plates and filled them with sticky rice that wasn't sticky and horribly overcooked vegetables. One of the workers must've muttered something about the assholes strutting into the dining hall a minute before close as we filled our Pepsi cups with soda water. Our thick-soled winter boots clacked against the tile floor, setting puffs of dust free in their wake.
"I have a theory to present to you," Amelia said. We slid into an empty booth. The cushions felt kinda sticky and squeaked as we sat. Stained-glass lighting overhead flickered, shining stuffy warmth down onto our meals. "I think our lives are made up of cycles that we can choose to loop through again and again or break out of."
"So, like, free will and all that?"
"Kind of. You know how last week I was saying free will and physical determinism can't coexist, but I want them to? I think they can both be true if the cycles are already given to us. We choose to enter or exit them as we wish." She lifted an elegant hand to place a putrid forkful into her mouth.
"Huh." I was but a lowly apprentice sat on the bent knee of her Socrates, listening intently.
"Like how I always end up in fields. It's as if I know something in my life needs to change, and somehow the next moment I'm sitting in some random field. Just hanging out with a bunch of crickets and watching the sunset and thinking. And then the universe tells me which cycle I should enter next, and I just do it."
"I like that."
"My last name means field, isn't that weird? I think God had that in mind."
"Yeah. It's like me and Alex. We keep going through this cycle where we're friends, and then we flirt, and then we fuck around or something and then we're right back at the beginning again. We've been through that loop twice already. Maybe the universe is telling me to ask him out this time around or something. Or maybe I should break it off. I dunno."
"God's totally messing with you there. Gotta mix it up somehow."
"Maybe the universe has been leading us to this conversation. Like we were always meant to sit here in this booth."
"Perhaps it was our destiny to make it to this moment and talk and discuss the secrets of the universe." An undercooked carrot cracked like a finger between my teeth.
"Something like that." Teach me, Socrates. Teach me and I will learn.
Someone stood up to leave a few tables down. They screeched their chair legs on the floor, like nails on a chalkboard. "One of these days I'll write a story about this conversation," I said.
"Promise to present it like a coming-of-age movie or something. Like how our parents lived in the 70s, you know? That kind of aura."
"Yeah, okay. I promise." There's so much spilling from our brains, it would be a shame not to write a dialogue.
"I'm a liar. Sorry."
"My last name actually means liar. I lied. It wasn't the universe that time."
"Oh shit. I fell for that one, didn't I?" The air was stifled and solid. We'd been here too long. The cycle needs to be broken. We need to move on with our days, and then our lives, but I'm just not ready yet.
"Did you know I met a new Felix? This is the fourth Felix I've met. The last three relationships ended poorly, but I have a good feeling about this Felix. He's really cool."
"Maybe this Felix will break the cycle for you and be good for once. Or maybe the universe is telling you to avoid people named Felix."
"I dunno. God's whispering something in my ear, I just can't understand what he's saying quite yet." A prong snapped off my fork, shooting broccoli across the once-clean floor with a wet splat. It left a brown stain on the carpet.
"Yeah." Maybe we could be philosophers. We can be Plato and Socrates. I can be your student, Socrates. I'll try to be Plato. I'll try.
"What do you think the name ‘Felix' means, anyway?"
"I can't say I know." She must've pulled out her phone to look it up or something like that. The overhead light blinked on and off again.
"It means ‘he laughs'. Shit. God's laughing at me, isn't he?"
"Oh my God."
We'd probably finished our rice and broccoli mush long ago, at this point. There were only soy sauce stains left on our plates. Mops slapped the tile floor around us as workers attempted to clean up.
"I can't quite tell if I need to tell every Felix to leave me alone, or if I need to make sure this Felix will be different than the others," she said. "A cycle clearly needs to be broken no matter what I do."
"Hmm. I think the universe is telling me to break the cycle and leave Alex. It's offering my potential to me on a silver platter, I just have to reach out and grab it. But what if that offering isn't what I want? What if I want to stay in the cycle a bit longer? I think free will's getting in the way."
"I'm so fucking confused, man. What does God want me to do?"
"Plato always said by thinking about philosophy you're getting closer to demiurge, so maybe by being confused we're just close to God."
"Yeah. Confusion is just God, I think."
"Yeah. Confusion is God."