Set in Miami, ‘Quarter Life Crisis’ takes the reader into the lives of two troubled individuals: Sean is a recent college grad turned burgeoning alcoholic who’s forced to take a job bartending when he can’t find one pertaining to his psychology degree, struggling to pay his student loans and get over a privileged past to find meaning in life after academia; Lauren is in a similar situation, battling her personal shortcomings after having dropped out of college to have a baby and get married to her husband, Rick, who she’s just walked in on having sex with their son’s babysitter. When Lauren and Sean meet, an event is sparked that shapes the rest of their lives, as well as their perceptions of how to be happy in the long run.
Targeted Age Group:: 18-30
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Two things, actually. When I was in college, I had a mild (understatement) obsession with the video game Guitar Hero. I got pretty good at it, started beating all my friends all the time. One day I beat the girl I was dating and started doing my usual amount of trash talking when she said “You act like you know how to play a real guitar.” It sparked something in me, made me realize that even though I was in college, headed to graduate school and a career and all that, I still didn’t really know how to DO anything. So I bought a guitar and taught myself to play, which led to this huge switch in my mentality. Basically I showed myself that I could do stuff if I put my mind to it, which made me wonder about all the people I knew who just doubted themselves before they even tried something. Which is when I envisioned the main character, Sean, going out and buying a guitar. And the story line just sort of unfolded from there.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Sean is basically me when I was 25, can’t really deny that (though I will admit he’s a lot more screwed up than I was; basically he’s an exaggeration of myself in my mid-twenties). He’s got a college degree and is working in a career that doesn’t give a crap about it, and he’s just trying to find meaning in his life. Lauren, the other protagonist, came about for a couple of reasons. She was meant to off set Sean’s personality, since she’s the more grounded and responsible out of the two. Yet she thinks about life through the same sort of lens that Sean does, always comparing reality to things like music and TV. Not to mention she’s way more responsible than Sean, which sort of makes her a more sympathetic character since she and Sean both find themselves in the same awkward situation as the story progresses, but Lauren’s the only one who’s been a relatively good person up until now. Lauren was also (in all honesty, and I only know this now in retrospect) my attempt to understand the girl I was dating at the time. So there’s a lot of her personality in there.
Lauren didn’t realize Rick’s ass had gotten so hairy. Flabby too. Not totally unattractive, but definitely on a downward spiral, especially considering the man’s only twenty-three years old and he used to have an ass she could hold on to for dear life. Something she used to admire when he was on his way out of the shower, or those times he’d head to the bathroom after sex to go pee or wipe himself off or whatever it is Rick does in the bathroom post-coitus.
This is the first time she’s noticed the deterioration though. The thought disconcerts her a little, she admits. Not so much the fact that his ass is in this condition, but that it took this particular situation for her to notice it. It’s not like this is an overnight development; Rick’s ass quality has to have been falling off for a while, yet she can barely remember the last time she really paid attention to it. It makes her wonder—for just a second—if this is her fault.
Admittedly though, Lauren hasn’t really had any recent or particular reason to pay close attention to Rick’s private parts. Honestly, who really studies their spouse’s ass on a daily basis? Unless it’s the increasingly rare occasion where they’re in the bathroom naked together, she still wouldn’t be staring at it, and definitely wouldn’t be seeing it in this current light: as the cheeks clench and unclench with each thrust while Rick plows into another woman’s vagina. Ideally, Lauren would be that woman, and therefore couldn’t possibly have the viewpoint she has right now, peeking around the corner of Justin’s—their two year old son’s—bedroom door and watching Rick grab a handful of Natalie’s—their barely-turned-eighteen-years-old babysitter’s—hair and pull her head back, thrusting deeper. Natalie lets out a scream/moan and Lauren flinches.
Yet even in this moment, the only thing Lauren’s really trying to figure out is why Rick’s home in the first place. He should be at work right now. And Natalie? Justin’s at day care until 5:00, so she has no reason to be here either. Unless you count what they’re doing right now. Which is a pretty legit reason when Lauren thinks about it.
She wonders for a second if Natalie is skipping a class. Composition I, or College Algebra, or Intro to Psychology or some other shitty freshman course. Skipping out on a day of education to come here—to Lauren’s apartment—and fuck her husband.
Rick lets go of Natalie’s hair and bends further over her, so his chest is touching her shoulders, his grunts accentuated by her impassioned whispers and moans, which seems to be creating a kind of sound-cocoon for them. Natalie throws her long, dirty blonde hair around and arches her back, raising her ass to receive Rick, digging her nails into the carpet. Her thigh muscles taut, dimples above her butt glistening with sweat, she whimpers as Rick crouches over and buries his face in her neck.
It’s almost professional how they’re doing it, and it’s then Lauren realizes this definitely isn’t the first time they’ve had sex. They’re too in tune to each other’s movements. The way Lauren and Rick used to be. Also, neither one of them have noticed Lauren’s here. It’s like they’re in another world.
Lauren considers saying something, but her mouth is stuck in a thin line on her face which she keeps trying to shift into a grimace or a frown or a sardonic smile or anything capable of emitting sounds, but it won’t budge. It’s like she’s stuck in viewer mode, and she really can’t help feeling like she’s seen all this before. Not Rick, not this situation in particular, but some version of it, somewhere else. It’s almost like she’s stuck in a Garry Marshall movie, and any minute now Garry’s going to step out of the bathroom to her left and yell “Cut!” Julia Roberts will be standing next to him, pleasantly annoyed and ready to give Lauren pointers. Garry will tell her to take her place in the bedroom, then roll his eyes and move her to the spot himself then hand her a copy of the script when it becomes obvious that she has absolutely no idea what her lines are.
Needless to say, she’s flustered by all the options she has. She could take the What the fuck is going on in here?! approach and watch Rick’s acid reflux flare up so suddenly he’d probably vomit right in Natalie’s hair.
Or she could go with the more passive approach, the throat clearing and solemn stare at them as they both scramble to put their clothes on inside out.
She could even let them finish—watch until Rick’s face clenches up, his eyes roll into the back of his head, and he does that little convulsive head nod that is characteristic of Rick’s orgasms. She could wait until that precise moment to step into the room, pat him on the back, and say something slick, like Nice job, Tiger.
Let’s be real though: Lauren’s a smart chick. On some level she knows she’s in shock right now. She hasn’t actually moved much more than her eyes in the past thirty seconds. Not since she heard a moan, peeked around the corner and saw her husband bent over the girl who’s been caring for their son every other Friday and Saturday night for almost six months now.
Rick and Lauren met Natalie at the same time, at their apartment complex’s swimming pool one Saturday back in April when they went down with Justin to spend the afternoon sunning and barbecuing. That day they’d struck up a conversation with her while she was sitting at the picnic tables with her mother and her friend, the two of them weeks away from graduating. Natalie’s mother had seemed nice, and Natalie had seemed so trustworthy then, and young—though, now that Lauren thinks about it, she’s only, what? Five years younger than her and Rick? So funny how perceptions of time can fluctuate.
It seemed like an easy choice back then, and Justin had taken an instant liking to Natalie that day. And hell, Natalie and her mom lived one building over, which made her easily accessible. Obviously too accessible.
Lauren’s options right now all seem out of reach though. The outcome of each course of confrontation will be inevitably dramatic, too much for her to deal with in conjunction with the situation itself. She hates drama (not just the way most women she knows say they hate drama but actually relish it, depend on it, thrive on it; no, Lauren legit hates that shit).
She doesn’t want to deal with this right now. Part of her just wants to forget it all, come home later tonight and make dinner, eat with Rick and Justin like they normally do.
But she knows she can’t.
This isn’t going away, and there is no backtracking on something that’s already taken place.
No matter what she does right now, Rick will still be fucking their babysitter.
So she watches them for a moment longer, watches as Rick wraps an arm around Natalie’s waist, flips her over and starts to drive his pelvis into hers, her entire body shifting across the carpet as she wraps her arms around his neck, and Lauren tries to think of reasons why this isn’t the end of the world. Then Rick’s groans get louder and his toes start to clench and he starts thrusting harder, and it’s all a little too much for her to handle.
Lauren turns and heads quietly through the living room, past the large leather couch and the IKEA coffee table towards the front door, picking her purse up off the hanger near the closet and slinging it over her shoulder just as something catches her eyes, a hint of unfamiliarity near the dining table.
Turning, Lauren sees Natalie’s book bag slung over the chair. She knows it’s Natalie’s because of the handwriting, the scribbled band names and phrases on the book bag matching the image in Lauren’s mind of curly print on the notes Natalie leaves for them the nights she babysits. The bag is weathered and torn in what seem to be strategic positions, a carryover from her recently relinquished high school career. Last Lauren checked, Natalie’s enrolled at Miami-Dade College—formerly Miami-Dade Community College—and Lauren finds it odd that she wouldn’t buy a new bag for this new phase in her life. Lauren would have.
Lauren considers picking up the bag and taking it outside, walking down a ways—towards the stairs and the elevator—and holding the bag over the railing for a second, studying the White-Out sketches and letting them sink into her eyes, her mind, her body, then tossing the bag over the edge and watching as it lands on the concrete below, splitting open and spilling its contents across the ground like a suicidal jumper. Notebook, pencils, pens, paper, a textbook or two, all strewn across the sidewalk.
But that would be yet another choice on the long list of ways to respond to this, a decision she’s not willing to make right now. So, instead, Lauren opens the door, walks out, quietly closes and locks it, then heads back to her car.
In Justin’s bedroom, Rick raises his head from the carpet, Natalie raising hers from his chest.
“Did you hear that?” he asks.
“No,” Natalie says, pulling him towards her. “Stop being paranoid.”
And even though Rick’s pretty sure he heard something, Natalie’s extremely persuasive.
Sean’s cell phone rings at 11:02 am. It rings again at 11:03, then 11:04, and when it rings again at 11:05 he’s ready to throw the thing through a fucking wall.
Sean snatches the phone up, looks at the time and the caller ID and curses under his breath as he presses talk and jams the contraption against his ear.
“What?” he yells.
“Sean.” On the other end, his brother’s voice.
“Marcus,” Sean says. “I told you, no calls before 12.”
“I need a ride home,” he says. “Asap.”
Sean wraps his pillow around his head, smacks his lips. Tongue pasty, breath like a bird shitted in his mouth while he was asleep. Sean glances at the phone again, at the time, then something clicks and he says:
“It’s eleven o’clock.”
“I know,” Marcus says.
“Since when did they start letting you guys out at eleven?”
“They don’t,” he says. Model of concision.
“Ok, am I missing something?”
“I got suspended,” Marcus says, exasperated, like Sean should’ve already known. Which, he guesses, he should’ve, since this is the third time this year.
“I’ll be there in half an hour,” Sean says.
“This is ridiculous, Marcus,” Sean says, but he’s already hung up. Sean tosses the phone on his nightstand and it immediately rings again. He groans and picks it back up but it’s his mother, and it’s obvious she’s already heard about Marcus when she yells:
“Sean! It’s your mother!” And before he can respond, hisses, “I’m getting so bloody sick and tired of his crap. Can you believe this? This is just outrageous. I have no idea what we’re going to do with him.”
Sean doesn’t even know how she knows he’s on the line. He hasn’t said hi or anything, not even a word. He just picked up the phone, pressed talk, and there she was, in all her glory. And frankly, he doesn’t plan on saying anything until she’s done either. Situations like these, he knows anything he says will only piss her off even more, or worse: redirect her rage at him, like he’s the one who put Marcus up to whatever shit he got himself into this time.
Last time Marcus called Sean to pick him up from school, it was because he’d been caught piercing some freshman chick’s nose in an upstairs bathroom using a sewing needle dipped in rubbing alcohol and a lighter flame, an ice pack held against the girl’s nostril until it was practically blue and she couldn’t feel a thing. Marcus had somehow convinced the girl he knew what he was doing, even though he didn’t and admitted to Sean afterwards that he’d Googled “how to pierce someone’s nose” in his iPhone the night before.
“He’s really outdone himself this time,” Sean’s mother says probingly. She waits until she’s sure Sean’s not going to take the bait, then sighs. “Your father’s blood pressure is going to be miserable tonight. I’m sorry to bother you, honey, but can you please pick him up?”
“Already on it,” Sean croaks.
“He called you?”
“He called me,” Sean says.
“Of course he did,” she says, sarcastically. Sean has no idea what that’s supposed to mean. He sits up and scratches his chest, trying not to groan when his neck and back pop and a slice of pain cuts across his forehead.
“Ma,” he says. “Have you ever thought that there might be more to this than Marcus just being an asshole?”
“Language,” she says.
“He’s a teenager,” Sean says. “Teenagers are all depressed. This is what they do. They do stupid shit. You should be happy he’s not one of the suicidal ones or something.” Sean pauses, not actually knowing if any of that’s true. All he knows is Marcus isn’t nearly as much of a dick around him as he is at home. “He just needs somebody to listen to him.”
“Don’t give me that nonsense,” his mother yells. “We do listen to him. Marcus isn’t some extraordinary case who deserves special treatment. Your father and I just had to postpone our anniversary cruise, did you know that?”
“No,” Sean says, with sadness in his voice for her benefit, though he has no idea what the hell that has to do with this situation.
“Your father can’t get the time off,” she continues. “I was really looking forward to the trip and yes, I’m extremely upset. You don’t see me getting suspended or fired or arrested or wherever else your brother’s heading. He’s completely destroying his future.”
“Aren’t we exaggerating just a little bit, Ma?”
“We are not exaggerating anything,” she hisses. “That’s exactly the mentality that gets him into these things in the first place, Sean. Leniency is not what your brother needs. He needs discipline. Discipline and a firm set of rules.” Her voice rises to shrill levels. “How can you say I’m exaggerating? Do you even know what he did?”
“Ok, God,” Sean says. “I’m sorry, Ma. You’re absolutely right.” He pauses for effect. “What did he do anyways?”
“Ask him yourself,” she spits. “I’m done with this. I’m much too busy and I don’t want to bother your father at work right now, so please, just pick him up and tell him something.”
“I’ll talk to him, Ma,” Sean says, knowing that it’s pointless to argue with either of them, his brother or his mother.
“Thank you, honey,” she says, her friendly psychiatric tone slipping back into her voice. “Maybe he’ll listen to your brand of reason,” she adds.
Sean wonders what the hell that’s supposed to mean, but stays quiet.
“How are you?” she asks, her voice softening. “I never know how you’re doing anymore. You never call, never visit. You live five miles away and it’s like you’re in Alaska.”
“Sorry, Ma,” Sean says. “I’ve been busy.”
There’s a long pause and he braces himself for a probing conversation, maybe another one of her passive aggressive rants about how he needs to start doing something with his degree and how he can come intern at her office until he starts grad school (for some reason, Sean’s parents—particularly his mother—have been under the very confident impression for an extremely long time that he plans on going to graduate school to get his doctorate in psychology, like his mom did. He doesn’t know who gave them that idea. It certainly wasn’t him) but she surprises him instead by saying:
“Well, happy birthday anyways, honey.”
Sean’s eyes shoot open and there’s his Hooter’s calendar on his door but, still, the thing’s outdated, so he takes his phone away from his ear and sees on the digital display that, yes, it is indeed October 29th. His birthday. Exactly two and a half decades since he was born. Exactly 53 weeks since Maria packed her shit and walked out on him. Exactly one year since his best friend splattered his head all over the hood of his car.
“Thanks, Ma,” he says, only his voice cracks near the end so all that comes out is “Than—”
“Try and enjoy yourself today,” she says, and he hears somebody yell in the background. “I have to go handle some stuff, I’ll talk to you later.”
Sean hangs up and lies there for a minute, trying to put the birthday thing out of his head. It’s like a looming monster in his consciousness though, and after a moment of hard breathing he turns to his night stand and grabs his pipe and the small bag of weed sitting next to his lamp. Opening the bag and pinching off a piece of the two small buds he’s got left, he sprinkles the flakes into the charred bowl of the pipe and grabs his lighter. Within seconds he’s got the flame held to the bowl and he’s inhaling, pulling in as much as he can fit in his lungs then sitting there holding his breath, letting the tingle hit his chest and the back of his throat and his mind before he finally exhales in a cloud of smoke.
A moment later Sean’s head is buzzing and thoughts of his mom and Maria and Leon and birthdays are gone, and instead he’s thinking about Marcus. He probably should talk to him like his mom wants him to. But—knowing Marcus—whatever just got him suspended was probably something relatively epic, in the relatively epic universe of high-school-dom; some act with just enough cool and dumb in it to boost his popularity without actually fucking up his already elevated chances of going to a kick ass college. Marcus is a smart dude (an understatement), smarter than most other seventeen year olds. One of those rare combinations of people who get straight A’s yet are so laid back and make it look so easy that you can’t call them a nerd without looking stupid.
But Sean’s supposed to act like what he’s feeling is disappointment rather than envy that his brother figured out how to navigate the upper echelons of high school better than he ever did. Sean says fuck it. Marcus can handle himself.
Sean’s finally getting out of bed with a groan and snatching his Shambles uniform off the carpet when there’s a knock at the door. Derek pokes his head in, looks him up and down. Sean remembers the tantrum from last night and waits for Derek to tell him again how much of a dick he is. Instead, he smiles wide.
“Hey,” he says. “You’re awake. Happy b-day, bro.”
Sean sticks his tongue out and Derek laughs.
“Don’t know what’s so happy about it,” Sean says, wading through the pile of empty beer cans on the carpet until he stumbles past Derek, out into the hall and into the bathroom at the end.
“Can you stop being pessimistic for once in your life?” he calls out.
“No,” Sean yells back.
“What are you doing tonight?”
“I know that, dick,” he says. “I mean after.”
Sean stares at himself in the mirror, his bloodshot eyes with bags the size of pants pockets under them, skin the color of a Butterfinger someone dropped in a muddy gutter.
“Maybe heading to Dill’s,” Sean says, though Dill’s Tavern is pretty much a guarantee for him after work these days.
“Hit me up when you get out,” Derek says. “I’ll join. Birthday shots on me.”
“Joy,” Sean grumbles.
He brushes his teeth and washes his face and a couple of minutes later he’s in his car, blinded by the sun, even after he puts the shades on. The buzz of the weed was supposed to dull these proceedings, but he can still feel the poke of a hangover in his left temple and his driver’s seat is fucking baking, so he just sits there for a moment taking deep breaths and letting the air conditioner blast the car with heated air that takes forever to cool down. And in that moment he seriously considers just saying screw it all and heading down to the Keys, selling his piece-of-shit car and figuring out the rest from there. It’d probably suck for a while, but at least it would be different. This shit right here’s getting monotonous, like he’s sleepwalking through his days. He can’t even remember if he got dressed or not before he walked out, and wonders for a second if he just got in his car wearing nothing but his underwear.
Then Sean’s vision clears and he touches his chest, feels the top button of his Shambles uniform, looks down and brushes a piece of lint off his work pants. He sighs, turns on his car and pulls out of the complex, headed towards Sideview High.
About the Author:
Patrick Anderson Jr. received his BA in English from Florida State University and his MFA in Creative Writing from University of Central Florida. He has had short stories and essays published in various e-zines and print journals such as Prick of the Spindle, Silverthought, Miambiance, Sex and Murder Magazine, Ghostlight Magazine, Existere Journal, Midwest Literary Magazine, and The Worcester Review. His short story collection, Boiling Point, was released in March 2013, and his first novel, Quarter Life Crisis, will be released in August of 2014. Patrick currently resides in his hometown of Miami, where he splits his time between bartending, writing, and doing things he’s not supposed to be doing. He also keeps a personal blog at PatrickAndersonJr.com.
Links to Purchase Print Books
Link to Buy Quarter Life Crisis: A Novel Print Edition at Amazon