He was drunk; I knew that immediately, from the moment he walked through the front door of our apartment. His footsteps were uneven; he slammed the door too hard, cursed a little too loudly as it rebounded off the frame.
“Honey! I’m back!” he called out, as if I couldn’t hear him.
I stepped out from the kitchen, eyed him up and down. It wasn’t the right time for me to tell him how I really felt, about the half-packed suitcase stowed away at the back of my closet where he’d never find it. Instead, I settled for just raising one eyebrow.
“Fun party?” I asked.
“Oh yeah. Johnny got a real good send-off. We got him almost drunk enough to forget that he’d been fired.” I watched as Derek dropped down onto our couch, pointed a finger-gun at an invisible coworker and pulled the trigger. “Poor sucker.”
“Hey, be nice about him,” I defended, even though I’d never met this Johnny. “What if you’re next on the chopping block?”
Derek turned and smirked up at me, that petty little expression that made my fingers itch to smack him. How had I thought him so charming at first, before I realized that he lacked any sense of compassion or care? How long had I labored under the misconception, before the haze finally lifted from my eyes?
“I’m not getting fired, babe,” he slurred, tilting his head back until the curling hairs at the nape of his neck brushed against the white leather. “See, they can’t fire me. I’ve got my tricks.”
“What tricks are those?” I asked. I just wanted to keep the conversation going, avoid straying into more dangerous waters. I didn’t really care about whatever petty little system Derek had for staying at his overpaid job. He probably believed that he was indispensable, the only one who knew some skill-
“I cheat,” he announced, and turned to grin at me as if he’d revealed a deep secret.
It meant nothing to me. “What?”
“See, it was Ben’s idea, I think.” Derek suddenly fumbled awkwardly at his pants, tugging out his phone. It took him two tries to unlock it. “Cheating at the job, see? It’s just his hack for getting good numbers. I thought ’bout doing what Holly does and blackmailing my boss, but what if someone else fires me instead?” He reached up to tap his brow confidently, missed by several inches. “Smart.”
I accepted the phone that he was waving around at me. I looked blankly at the list of names and headings; it looked like some sort of online forum. “What is this?” I asked, running a finger over the screen to scroll through the listings.
Derek’s head lolled backwards over the couch as he grinned up at me. “Cheats, babe.”
I opened my mouth to ask what he meant, but closed it after a second as I read some of the titles on the forum posts. Indeed, it seemed to be just that! Various strangers on the internet had posted all sorts of links, with titles like “How to secure a raise, at least four figures” and “Catch her eye at the club, guaranteed!”. Each of the posts seemed to have a star rating, perhaps based on how well it worked?
“Keep it a secret,” Derek slurred, trying to press a finger against his lips. “It’s an elite network, that I’m part of. Not just anyone can find it.”
“Uh huh.” I wasn’t listening, staring at some of the posts. “How to pick up a girl while seeming shy and unassuming.” Wasn’t that how Derek and I first met? “How to land a job at any tech company”? Had Derek used one of these to get his job, too?
One of the links caught my eye. “How to decide whether to commit to a relationship”, posted by someone named CoryRandR. I clicked it, reading over the post that appeared.
Most people write up a long series of questions, weighing all the pros and cons. As a doctor of psychology, I can tell you that there’s an easier way I’ve discovered. Just answer this one question – if you were on your deathbed and the other person showed up, would you be glad to see them one last time?
No, I thought to myself, glancing over at Derek.
And with that simple word, I knew that I needed to finish packing that suitcase.
Were all of these cheats so… useful? This one that I’d just read only had three and a half stars. Were the other ones even better?
Derek was out, snoring as he sprawled on the couch, but I kept reading through the forum, clicking on link after link. There were so many – and they all seemed strangely useful, not the usual bullshit mumbo-jumbo found on other sites or spammed on social media! I dropped down into the chair across from Derek’s snoring body, reading and scrolling.
Actually, this would be a good time to leave, I considered after another few minutes. Derek would be so hungover, he wouldn’t realize what had happened for a bit, and I could take some time to figure out what I’d do next. I went to close the phone-
-but one more caught my eye.
“How to cheat death,” this one read.
I frowned at it. It had no star ratings at all. Was it just a joke of some sort?
I clicked on it.