When my best friend, Derrick, announced he'd found the "woman of his dreams," I feared I would lose another friend to the abyss of a long-term relationship. "This is Ellen," Derrick introduced us to her a few days after they'd met at a party. She was a beautiful girl with a sweet personality. Her eyes sparkled as she attentively listened to the boring stories of our lives. There was a genuine smile on her face every time she greeted us, and she usually added a compliment like: "You look really good in that shade of blue."
We immediately accepted her into our circle of friends. Not that it would matter, because where ever Derrick went, Ellen was sure to follow. I invited them to lunch one Saturday. At times, they were a little overbearing, but this day they were downright rude. From the moment they arrived, they were holding hands. They didn't even let go to eat. Upon closer inspection, I discovered that his left hand was affixed to her right hand. They appeared to be melted together like two crayons left out in the sun.
I tried to ignore it, but they kept their hands on the table for the entire meal.
Finally I asked, "What happened?" and pointed to their sealed fist.
"Oh this?" Derrick laughed as he lifted it into better view, taking Ellen's arm with it. From this light, it looked as if the entwined fingers were webbed together.
"It's the strangest thing," Derrick began, "We always sleep hand in hand--"
"And wake up hand in hand," Ellen added cheerfully.
"So it was no big surprise when we woke up one morning and found we were stuck together."
"At first I was frightened," Ellen continued.
"We couldn't let each other go."
"But then we realized this was what we always wanted," Ellen concluded.
"Then I couldn't be happier for you," I said, though I had to force a smile.
A few days later, I received a call from our mutual friend, Kathleen.
"Have you seen Derrick and Ellen recently?" she asked me.
"Yeah," I said, "That hand thing is really freaky."
"And that arm's disgusting," she snorted.
"Arm? What arm?"
"Didn't you see how their arms were connected at the elbow?"
"They were just connected by the hand when I saw them," I told her, "This sounds much worse."
Out of curiosity I asked, "Whose hand are they sharing?"
"I don't know," she sounded annoyed, "I couldn't stand looking at it for that long."
After a sigh, she added, "I'm really worried about them."
"Were they concerned about it?"
"No. They couldn't be happier."
"Then you shouldn't worry," I told her. Because I was worried enough for both of us.
That night I had my first date in over two months. Jessica was a friend of one of the ladies in my office. We had hung out at parties and group outings, but this was the first time we'd ever been on an official date. I took her to dinner at one of the fancy restaurants on the pier.
"I've always been interested in you," she confessed early in the evening. That filled me with a pleasant giddiness, which lasted until she said, "So, tell me about your friends."
I told her about Derrick and Ellen.
"I wonder why that's happening?" Jessica pondered out loud.
"I don't know," I told her, "But I'm worried sick about it."
She patted me on the hand and said, "You're such a good friend."
After dinner, we walked around the harbor. She slipped her hand into mine, but holding her left hand didn't feel right. I swung around and grabbed her other hand.
When I got her home, she asked "Would you like to come in?"
"Not quite yet," I told her and left with only a kiss good-night.
When I met Derrick and Ellen for lunch the following day, they were connected at the shoulder. I had to agree with Kathleen, it was a disturbing sight. Their joined arm had taken on characteristics of both their limbs, including their lower arm, elbow and upper arm.
There was no point mentioning it to them. What more could I say? Instead, I told them the details of my date with Jessica.
"She sounds lovely," Ellen said, "I can't wait to meet her."
"Neither can I," Derrick agreed.
When the food came, I tried not to stare at them, but wanted to observe how they ate. Each primarily used their free arm, but occasionally had to use the shared limb. They worked it so naturally, you'd think they were Siamese Twins who'd done this all their lives.
I finally had to ask, "Is it a right arm or a lefty?"
Derrick laughed and bellowed, "Would you believe it's ambidextrous?" With that, they twisted it in the air as if it were a bare tree branch swaying in the autumn wind.
"When I need a right hand," Ellen informed me, "It acts like a right."
"And when I need a left hand," Derrick concluded, "It acts like a left."
"That's amazing," I said as I coughed up my third of the bill.
That night, images of the uni-limb danced in my head.
On my second date with Jessica, we ended up back at her place. I hate making love for the first time, it's so awkward. We're strangers to each other's likes and dislikes, which constantly disrupts the flow.
"Will you spend the night?" she asked once we finished.
"Of course," I told her, though I wanted to leave. I very rarely slept well in strange apartments.
After a brief period of snuggling, Jessica rolled over and went to sleep. I put my hand behind my head and waited for it to come for me. It didn't. Jessica's breathing quickly steadied. Within an hour, she rolled on her back. I gently slipped my hand into hers and dozed off.
It did not remain that way when we awoke.
The following Saturday, Kathleen organized a movie outing. As usual, she was the first to arrive, I was second, and Derrick and Ellen were late. It gave me an opportunity to fill Kathleen in on the recent state of our friends.
"What're they going to look like today?" she asked in dread.
"I doubt it can get any worse."
"Oh yeah?" she said and pointed across the parking lot.
Derrick and Ellen were coming toward us, happily swinging their shared arm. But there was a limp in their step. My eyes fell to the ground where there were only three feet between the two of them.
Their shorts revealed how their thighs merged at the knees. Like their upper arm, this new appendage was a mix of both their former limbs. They wore matching sneakers, and I noticed the shared one took a left shoe.
"It's neither left nor right," Derrick caught my gaze, "It can take either shoe."
"That's..." I couldn't complete my own thought. I didn't know what it was.
"Have you guys seen a doctor about this?" Kathleen asked.
"Why?" Derrick asked.
"It just isn't right." she protested.
"This is perfect," Derrick told us, "It's like running a three legged race every day."
I couldn't argue with that logic. Not because I agreed, but because it was so stupid.
"We're going to miss the beginning of the movie," Kathleen reminded us. With that, the four of us hobbled into the theater.
Jessica woke me up in the middle of the night.
"Your leg's wrapped around mine," she told me, "I can't get comfortable."
"Sorry," I grumbled and untwisted myself from her.
With our backs facing, we returned to sleep.
The double date was an absolute disaster. I made sure Jessica and I got to the restaurant early so I could warn her about Derrick and Ellen's worsened condition.
"Any friends of yours are sure to be delightful," she said, "It doesn't matter how they look."
Her attitude changed the moment they arrived. Once she saw them enter the restaurant, her face filled with absolute horror.
They weaved through the tables on their three legs like a giant crab. The legs rose into a shared torso which sprouted into one large chest. Even their heads were connected, though still retained the full shape of each of their skulls.
Everybody in the restaurant was staring at us. I was utterly embarrassed.
"Hi guys," Derrick said as they reached the table.
"This must be Jessica," Ellen said with glee.
"Hi," Jessica waved timidly.
They extended their shared hand toward Jessica. After taking a moment to decide which hand to use, she abruptly shook it. I though she was going to die right there.
"So?" Derrick asked as he put two seats together for him and his girlfriend,
"What's on the menu?"
When we got back to Jessica's place, I was prepared to go in with her.
"Not tonight," she stopped me, "Your friends were a real turn off. I need some time to get their image out of my mind."
"I know what you mean," I agreed, they'd been on my mind since this whole thing started.
"Next time," she said and kissed me softly on the lips.
"Yeah," I said, wondering if there would be a next time.
"I've had enough of them," Kathleen told me over the phone.
"Me, too," I agreed. Jessica hadn't called since our double date and I blamed them for this, "Who do you think they are, walking around like a couple of circus freaks?"
"They need to seek professional help," Kathleen insisted, "Somebody has to be able to put them back to normal."
"I hope so," I said to her, "I hope so."
I was glad we met at my house, because the most frightful thing showed up on my doorstep. The easiest way to describe it is to say it were half Derrick and half Ellen. Half its hair was his short, thinning brown hair, the other half was her long, thick, blonde hair. One eye was her blue, the other his brown. Half its teeth retained his crooked grin, the other her perfect, white smile. It had one breast and half an Adam's apple. The thought of the rest of its anatomy both intrigued me and made me nauseous. Kathleen couldn't even look at them.
"What're we going to do tonight?" It asked us in a voice too high to be Derrick's, but not high enough to be Ellen's.
"I've gotta go," Kathleen said suddenly, "I forgot I had something very important to do."
"It's not because of us, is it?" it asked.
Kathleen shook her head and without looking at them said, "Of course not," then hurried out the door before any of us could reply.
I felt very uncomfortable being alone with the thing in my living room.
"I know this is hard to digest," it said to me, "But we're still the same people."
"People?" I questioned, "Don't you mean person?"
"It'll just take some getting used to," it assured me.
"I know," I lied, "I just need some time."
"Sure," it said, "Take all the time you need."
As I shut the door behind it, I knew I would never again set eyes on the thing that was once my best friend and his girlfriend.
A few days later, Jessica finally called.
"Would you like to come over?" she asked.
I sure did. I wanted her to hold me, kiss me and never let me go.
"I can't," I told her, "I need to be by myself."
Thomas J. Misuraca is the author of over forty-five short stories published in literary magazines such as Thema, Art Times and Byline. He has studied writing and literature at both Emerson College and UCLA. A Boston native, Tom currently resides in Los Angeles. When he isn't writing, he works as a graphic designer.
Contact Thomas Misuraca at: TMisuraca@aol.com
August 30, 2002