Bill glanced at his watch just as the second hand glided past the twelve.  The hour hand was positioned just below the seven and the minute hand was directly over the eleven.  Using his right foot, he pushed back the door to his building and routinely nodded to the woman and the front door.

“Morning, Louise.”

“Morning, Bill.”

Bill walked up to the elevator.  The tiny little up arrow was illuminated.  Beside him stood a man about five foot ten and a half, with light brown hair and wire-framed glasses.  Bill hadn’t seen this man at his building before, but there were plenty of other businesses in the building that could’ve hired someone new.

Bill’s watch read 6:56 a.m.  The two men stepped into the elevator.  Bill stood to the left when getting in so that it was naturally the other man’s necessary duty to push the elevator buttons.

“Eleventh floor, please,” Bill said to the man.

“You too?” the man said, pressing the eleven.

Bill nodded, trying to avoid any unnecessary conversation.

“I only got hired on Friday,” the man said.  “I graduated from NYU about two years ago.  It’s pretty exciting working for a huge newspaper like this.”

“Yeah.”  Bill tapped his foot, waiting for the elevator to stop, and wondering what basic grammatical error would reel its way out Steve’s mouth first: “I been…” or “You got…?”

The man leaned over, extending his hand.  “I’m Steve.”

Bill leaned back, clutching his briefcase with both hands.  “Hi, Steve,” he said acrimoniously.

Steve pulled back his hand.  “And you are?”

“Bill.”

Steve nodded, a smile twinkling from goofy cheek-bone to goofy cheek-bone.  Bill thought, What could this guy possibly be so happy about?

Just then the elevator stopped.  They both got out and began walking in separate directions.

Steve called out, “Oh, have you met the new CEO yet?  I heard he’ll be paying a visit some time today.”

Bill rolled his eyes.  “Is he less of an idiot than the last guy?” he called back.

Steve chuckled.  “See you later, Bill.”

Bill sat down at his desk and continued editing his most recent article, written by a journalist named Lou Fowler.  Bill added seven semicolons, changed three verb tenses, and reworded the entire rest of the 150-word article.  At 10:23 a.m. Bill finished the article and read it through.  He found it satisfactory, and put it on top of a pile of most recent articles.  Behind him, Bill heard some above-standard-volume ambient chatter, and what sounded like Steve’s voice.

“Good morning, Bill.  So you’re one of my chief editors, correct?”

As Bill stood up to look, he felt a lump in his throat.  Standing behind him, with his hand reaching out for a shake, was the very guy he had met earlier, five foot ten and a half, with light brown hair and wire-framed glasses.

“What’s up, Bill?”

Bill slumped back into his chair.  “I’m really sorry about what happened earlier.  I was only kidding.”

“What are you talking about?”  Steve raised an eyebrow and leaned uncomfortably close, still grinning stupidly.

“Uh, nothing.”  Bill swallowed.  He turned back to his comfortably organized desk.  “Nice to meet you.  I better get back to these articles.”  He pulled a few papers off the pile.

“Alright.  Don’t work too hard, Bill.”  Steve laughed as if he had told himself a joke.

After taking a few steps away, he turned and shouted, “By the way, I’m Steve.”

Bill smirked nervously.

•     •     •

Later  that day, at 2:12 p.m., Bill got up for a coffee break.  As he looked out the window, he saw a police officer writing in a note pad and standing in front of Bill’s car.  Bill quickly, but gently, placed his coffee on the table and ran down eleven flights of stairs.

Running towards his car, Bill noticed the police officer was gone, but now a guy with a tow truck was attaching Bill’s car to a large hook.  Bill shouted, “What do you think you’re doing?  I park here every day!”  Bill stopped running and put his hands on his knees to catch his breath.

“Sorry, sir, but you didn’t purchase a valid parking pass.”

Bill lifted his head in disgust, only to see that the guy operating the tow truck was an all too familiar face-about five foot ten and a half, with light brown hair and wire-framed glasses.

What the-?

“I’m just doing my job, buddy.”

Steve?

“That’s what my name tag says,” the man replied, pointing to his shirt.

Bill was pointing frantically from the tow truck to the office building.  “How did you-?”  He tried reviewing all the possibilities in his head.  Could this be the same Steve Bill had talked to earlier, who turned out to be his boss?  Maybe he had two jobs.  Bill thought about it for a brief moment, deciding that it had to be an unusual coincidence.

Bill calmed himself down, and then said, “Is this some kind of sick joke?”

Steve raised an eyebrow.  “I assure you, no.”

Bill pulled out his wallet.  “How about I just pay the ticket and we pretend this never happened?”

Steve shook his head.  “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

“Oh, I get it.”  Bill shook his head indignantly.  He pulled a bill out of his wallet.  “Twenty?”

Steve grinned and shrugged his shoulders.  He stepped into his truck and started the engine.

Fifty?” Bill called out desperately, but Steve had already driven away.

•     •     •

How could this happen? Bill thought.  I always park there.  And tow trucks never even come in this area!

Bill stared blankly at his computer screen.  He was staring at a half-written letter from the editor, but his brain was already full.  After several minutes, Bill decided to leave work early.

He was walking to the elevator when he ran into Steve.  He told Steve he was leaving.  Steve looked at him and shrugged his shoulders.  Downstairs, Bill walked to the nearest bus stop.  He didn’t know when the bus came, but he decided to wait anyway.  After thirty-two minutes, one finally pulled up.  Bill fished two dollars out of his wallet, tossed it in the tray, and sat in the back beside an elderly woman.

“Nice day, isn’t it?” she asked.

Bill nodded, anxious to get home and retrieve his car.

“I really like this bus driver,” the lady went on.  “He’s really friendly, always smiling and such.”

Bill looked to the front of the bus.  His stomach turned as he saw the driver’s face in the rear-view mirror.

Get me off this bus,” Bill said, nauseated.

He pulled the cord and hurried off the bus.  Before he could take any time to look around, he ran the rest of the way home.

•     •     •

Sitting on his couch, Bill reviewed the day’s events in his head.  It’s not possible, he thought.  It can’t be.  He thought of how many times he’d seen this Steve character.  There was the guy at the office, the tow truck driver, and the bus driver.  That’s only three.  Maybe then it was possible that it was all just a coincidence.  After all, he didn’t know the bus driver’s name, and he hadn’t taken a very long look.  Yes, maybe it was a coincidence.

He grabbed the remote and turned on the TV.

From the TV, Oprah looked straight at Bill and said, “Separated at birth, these identical twins were given the same name by two different families.  Almost thirty years later, they are reunited.  Please welcome Steve and his twin brother, Steve.”

Bill screamed.  He fumbled for the remote and dropped it on the ground, spilling the batteries in opposite directions.  He watched as two men walked onstage, both about five foot ten and a half, with light brown hair and wire-framed glasses.  He quickly grabbed one battery and searched frantically for the other.  He found it under the couch, shoved it in the remote, and turned off the TV.  He sighed.

“Maybe I should get some sleep.”

•     •     •

Bill didn’t bother going to work the next day.  He called up his friend, Carlos, and they went for lunch at a local coffee shop.  Bill was relieved when he saw Carlos-about five foot four, messy black hair, plump, and no glasses.

Bill was talking faster than he could think.  “So I get into the office yesterday and I meet this new guy, Steve, who’s a real moron, and it turns out that guy is my boss, and then my car gets towed by a guy who looks just like him, named Steve, and then-and then-this guy is the bus driver-because I had to take the bus because my car was towed-so I get home and I see two more of these idiots on TV!”  He took a deep breath.  “Man, I hate Steve.”

Carlos thought it over in his head.  “That’s six.”

“Five.  The guy at work was my boss.  I think.  Maybe.  No.  Probably not.  Ah, who knows?”  Bill ran his hands through his hair.  “And every time I see him it’s a new guy, like he’s never seen me before.”

“What did this Steve guy look like?”

Bill sighed.  “About five foot ten and a half, with light brown hair and glasses.”

“Congratulations, you just described fifty percent of the population of North America.”  Carlos glanced over his shoulder and then faced Bill.  “Is he here now?”

Bill looked around.  Then he saw him, sitting three booths down.  “Yep.  Right there.”  Bill pointed.  “Glasses, brown hair.  That’s him.”

“So if I call him over, it’ll be a brand new Steve?”  Carlos sipped on his drink.

“Don’t, Carlos-“

Carlos turned around and raised his hand in the air.  “Hey!  Steve!”  Steve looked at Carlos, an eyebrow raised.  “Could you come here for a sec?” he shouted.  “I believe you know my friend Bill.”

When Steve spotted Bill, he got up and walked over to the table.  Bill sat tightly in the booth, chewing on a straw.

“Bill!” Steve said.  “Why aren’t you at work?”

Bill nearly choked on his drink.  He looked up at Steve.  “What did you say?”

“You should be at work right now.  It’s Tuesday.  And you left early yesterday.”

“I told you I was leaving early.”

“No, you didn’t.  Maybe you told another Steve,” he said jokingly.

Steve laughed stupidly.  Carlos laughed inquisitively.  Bill laughed apprehensively.

Bill said, “I’m sorry.  Some weird things have been happening and I… I just needed a sick day.”  Bill was sweating.

“Good man, Bill.”

As Steve was walking away, Carlos extended his hand.  “I’m Carlos.”

Steve shook his hand ecstatically.  “Nice to meet you, Carlos.  As you know, I’m Steve.”

“I’ve heard a lot about you.”  Carlos smiled.

As Steve walked away he turned around and waved.  “See you in the office, Bill.  Have a nice day, guys.”

Carlos turned to Bill.

Bill shook his head nervously.  “I’m losing my mind.”

•     •     •

Bill didn’t watch TV that night.  He went straight home after lunch and stayed in his room.  He didn’t read.  He didn’t listen to the radio.  When he went to his fridge to get food, he closed his eyes, grabbed what felt appetizing, and ate it.  Sitting in his room, he thought about his car.  He couldn’t leave it forever.  And he’d have to go into work tomorrow, Steve or no Steve.  That night, he couldn’t fall asleep, which was probably for the better, since he knew that Steve would find a way into his dreams.

•     •     •

As Bill was walking to work the next morning, he spotted a Steve, who didn’t appear to recognize him, walking in the other direction.  Bill stopped right in front of the man, blocking his path.

“Excuse me, is your name Steve?” he asked.

“Why, yes it is.  How did you-?”

Before Steve could finish, Bill punched the man as hard as he could, contacting him on the jaw.  Steve stumbled, then regained his balance, and began walking away backwards, glancing at Bill every few seconds.

Bill stopped.  He didn’t want to go to work.  He couldn’t.  He walked across the street to the nearest gas station and asked the Steve at the counter to use the phone.  He phoned work and told Steve he needed a holiday.  Steve said he’d get another worker-probably Steve-to finish any projects Bill was working on.  Bill said he’d be back in a couple of weeks.  Then he phoned the airlines and booked a seat on the next flight to Japan.  How many Steve’s could there be in Japan?

Bill’s taxi pulled up to the airport and he handed Steve the driver the fifty-three dollars and ninety-five cents.  Bill went to the service desk, where Steve had his ticket waiting; went to customs, where Steve questioned him; walked through the metal detector, where Steve found only his belt buckle; sprinted to bay twelve, where Steve told him his plane was delayed (so he had to sit beside Steve while he told Bill all about himself); ran onto the plane, where he fell asleep next to Steve and dreamt about Steve; and then woke up to the end of an in-flight movie, starring Steve.

Bill turned to his side.  “How long is this flight?”

“About eight hours,” replied Steve.  “You slept through five of them.”

“I haven’t had much sleep lately.  Weird things are happening.”

“Like what?  I have three hours.”  Steve laughed at his feeble joke.

Bill sat up straight.  “Actually, I see you everywhere.”

On the seat in front of Bill, the credits began to roll.

“That is weird.”  Steve looked forward, pensive.  “Imagine that.”

“I’ve seen you eighteen times in the past three days.  I’ve seen you eleven times today alone, and that’s not counting the guy I talked to on the phone.”

“That’s quite amazing.  I don’t know what to make of all that.”  Steve smiled.

“Me neither,” Bill said.  “You were also in the movie I just woke up to.”

“Sorry, I must’ve missed it.  But that sure sounds neat.”

Bill sighed.

“By the way, I’m Steve.”

“I know.  Eighteen times, remember?  I’m not kidding.”

Steve was silent.

Bill looked around for a steward.  “Do they still make those little peanuts?  I could sure go for some right now.”

•     •     •

The last three hours of the flight weren’t so bad.  The meal was nice, and Bill actually had quite a nice conversation with Steve.  They talked about work-this Steve was a doctor; school-Steve went to NYU, of course; and all sorts of other stuff.  Bill learned a lot about Steve.  In his mind, Bill hated to admit it, but he actually enjoyed having Steve present during the flight.  At 8:50 p.m., the plane landed, everyone collected their bags, and left.  On the way into the airport, Steve’s smile glaring, Bill reached out his hand.

“It was nice meeting you, Bill,” Steve said, shaking Bill’s hand.

“It was nice…meeting…you, too.”

As Bill walked out into the street, he called for a taxi.  As the yellow car pulled up, Bill opened the door and said, “Take me to the nearest hotel, Steve.”

In his broken English, the driver said, “Steve?  Me no Steve.”  Pointing to himself, he said, “Nissho Kotara.”

“Oh.”  Bill paused.  “Just take me to a hotel nearby.”

“Yessir.”  The driver nodded.

•     •     •

Bill arrived at the hotel that night and was helped to a room by some guy named Koji, or something.  At 10:15 p.m., Bill sat on his bed, flipping through the channels.  Bill couldn’t understand any of the Japanese, and to his surprise, he saw no Steve.  So he decided to take a walk.

Wandering the narrow streets of Nagoya, Bill found himself bored.  He had no one to talk to, and he didn’t speak any Japanese.  He saw the occasional person-black hair, five foot three and a quarter, with glasses; black hair, four foot eleven and a half, no glasses-but he couldn’t recognize anyone.

Then he saw a man with light brown hair.  Quickly, Bill ran up to the man and grabbed him by the shoulders, spinning him around.  Medium brown hair, five foot ten even, no glasses.  The man pushed Bill away and yelled something at him in Japanese.

I don’t like this, Bill thought.  Everything is so…unpredictable.

Back at the hotel, Bill flipped meaninglessly through the channels.  He thought about Japan, and then about home.  Is Japan worth staying?  Something about Japan wasn’t so appealing, and he decided to leave.  He called the airport and got on the first flight home in the morning.

The next day, Bill watched the people from inside a taxi, checking for a familiar face.  He wondered if he’d ever see Steve again at all.  He paid the driver and began walking through the airport to his flight terminal.  He frantically searched the crowds, but found no one.  When it was time to leave, Bill took one more glance around, groaned, and walked on the plane.  As he reached his seat, he reached up to put his briefcase in the overhead compartment, but dropped it on the ground.  As he bent down to pick it up, he was face to face with Steve.

“Let me get that,” Steve said, picking up the briefcase and sitting down.

“What a relief,” Bill said aloud, sitting down next to Steve and patting him on the back.

“Excuse me?” Steve said.

“I’m sorry,” Bill replied.  “You don’t know me, but I know you.  Steve, right?”

“Yeah, how’d you-?”

“I see you everywhere.  Five foot ten and a half, the light brown hair, and the wire-framed glasses.  What a relief to finally see a familiar face.  I was dying out there.  I can’t wait to get back and finally see Steve.  Another Steve.  You don’t know him but he’s just like you.”

Steve raised an eyebrow.

Bill laughed loudly.  “I knew you were going to do that!”  He crossed his arms and leaned back in the seat.  “So, Steve, tell me about yourself.”

Copyright (c) 2009 Joshua Nichol.  All rights reserved.
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One Response to “Steve”

  1. Rachel said

    I really liked this one!!

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