no light

She fidgeted herself awake.

It took her a moment to understand why her toes weren’t freezing, and why she’d felt overly warm under her duvet: Andrei’s socked feet had curled around hers, his right arm hung loosely around her hip.

Carefully, she lifted his arm and hedged out from under it. Her arms goose-pimpled as she quietly slipped out from under the duvet and padded out of the room.

His first thought as his eyes startled open was of consternation: he’d been so warm and comfortable, why was he even awake?

His second thought was that he was going to throttle her.

‘Wake up, pond muck’, she giggle-whispered.

His feet scrabbled for the duvet she’d pulled back, the cold instantly surrounding his feet and making him curl into himself to hold onto the warmth.

‘Don’t be wicked. Let me sleep’, he muttered-yawned.

The duvet slid further to the left, leaving half of him exposed to the cold.

‘Get up, Andrei!’

He lunged for the duvet just as she yanked it off him completely.

He tumbled onto the floor.

‘Shhh! You’ll wake the house’.

‘What the fuck, Achlys? Why are we even awake?’ he grumbled, dragging himself off the floor.

She pointed at the window behind him.

It was almost dawn, the inky sky about to break into a thousand shards of light. The ground was covered in snow.

Andrei and Achlys crept down the stairs, their socked feet soundless; shoes held in their hands.

‘Through the kitchen.’ Achlys prodded at the bottom of the stairs.

Andrei stilled. ‘Someone’s in the den’

‘No- ‘

‘No, listen-‘

‘It’s nothing. Let’s just go through the kitchen- it’s probably just mum…’

‘At half five? What would she be doing up so early?’ he asked, incredulously.

She ignored him, stalking into the kitchen and out of the side door.

Achlys made her way down the garden path, her delight in the snow-covered ground forgotten. She was annoyed with Andrei, irritated with his inability to just- for once- listen to her. To just let things go, to just let them be- always wanting to know why and how and why not. It was frustrating. Not everything has an explanation. Not everything needs one.

‘He’s like a bloody terrier- doesn’t let go of something once he catches a sniff of it’, she muttered to herself.

She kicked rather viciously at a pebble in her path.

Andrei caught up with her as she crossed into the woods. His breath puffing into the air, he silently handed her a hot flask.

They trudged through the snow, the moon still winking at them through the trees; the stars shining down. He lifted a branch out of her way and she ducked under it, making her way to the tree.

She came to a standstill in front of the tree. She dragged in a breath of icy air.

He reached for her hand without quite realising it.

The tree’s branches were caked with snow, its thin arms reaching up and out, up and out; almost touching the moon and the stars.

The Earth was shouting out her secrets.

Achlys’ hand tightened around his.

:::::Sophie- don’t fuck with me.

 

 

I plopped on the bed and kicked my heels off, indulging in a donut. I looked straight across the room into James’s black eyes, smirking while I chewed.

James stared back at me, defeated, and a bit paranoid, as if a piano may fall on him. Then, he exhaled deeply, and laid his head back on the backrest of the plush chair he was sitting on, kicking his feet up on an ottoman.

“Can we call this even now?” he asked nasally.

“Why’d you do it, James? Why’d you steal Betty and leave me all on my own?”

James sighed.

“You wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

“Try me,” I said, throwing the gooey donut at his face.

He sat up and angrily swatted the donut off his nose, the jelly left behind looking like more smeared blood.

“You know what, Sophie? If you’d have had some fucking patience, we’d be in a much better situation right now. But no. You had to go and look all heroic and drag me back to your little hen circle like a prized Elk.”

I stood up and walked up to him, my hands clenched into well practiced fists.  He stood up as well, prepared to actually hit back this time. We stood seething face to face- both of us at our wits end with each other.

I raised my fist, he raised his.

I unclenched my hand and brought my fingers into a relaxed shape, bringing my other hand up to cup his face.  I looked up at him and still admired his long eye lashes that framed his dark brown eyes.  I stood on my toes to bring my face closer to his.

As my hands traced his jaw bone, he relaxed and closed his eyes. He opened them again to see if I was bringing my nose into his.  I traced his cheek bone with my thumb…. just before digging my index finger violently into the broken bridge of his nose, bringing him to instant tears, and forcing a shriek of pain from him. As he recoiled and positioned himself to backhand me, I followed up my  statement with a swift kick to his balls.  He forgot about his nose, and grabbed the twins, sitting back down on his chair, searching for breath.

 

I skipped back to the bed and plopped down again, biting into a new doughnut.

“Let’s try this again James. Why’d you leave me and steal Betty?”

jack // one step more and you die

It only took another two episodes of My Little Pony for Jack to sober up enough to realize that he had been sitting in a drug dealer’s living room for about two hours watching My Little Pony, and he politely excused himself from Jeremy’s company.  In another five minutes he realized that he was trying really hard to put his coat on backwards, and after a paltry twenty minutes of admiring his Volkswagen’s “Check Engine” light to the tune of an old Slint album, he managed to start the car and head for downtown.

He took a parking space next to the courthouse (not for its logistical advantage, but rather because it didn’t require parallel parking), killed the engine, and tried once more to remember any details of his evening, no matter how small.

His blank, almost-pensive stare was interrupted by the grumbling of his stomach, unsatisfied with his tribute of Crunch Berries and plain Ritz Crackers.  If he was going to explore the vast, mile-and-a-half long expanses of downtown, he was going to have to put more fuel in the tank.  Luckily, Carmen’s Taqueria was a mere block away, and with a carne asada burrito in one hand and a bottle of fruit punch Gatorade that he had somehow convinced the staff to let him fill with sangria, Jack set off in search of his next clue.

As he walked, he began to doubt that he would find anything.  If he had gone anywhere, it probably would have been any number of the bars he had been known to haunt, and at 2:30 in the afternoon, none of them were even close to opening.

“Jack?”

The best idea was to kick around until they opened, then go around asking about last night.  The plan was solid, if not more than a little imprecise, but Jack and his dwindling checking account were prepared to face every last happy hour, buy-one-get-one-free, and two drink minimum in town if it meant finding the next piece of the puzzle.

“Jack!”

No longer pressured to do anything until about five o’clock, Jack drank deeply from his Gatorade bottle and allowed his vision to fuzz along the edges, paying attention to nothing but the crackle of sand and salt as it grinded between his sneakers and the icy sidewalk.

“JACK!”

A hand tapped irritatingly on his shoulder.  Jack obliged to see who it belonged to, finding a slightly ponchy, extremely pale seventeen-year-old, garnished with a mop of bunchy red hair that probably begged to be made fun of back in grade school.

“I’ve been yelling your name for about three minutes now!” the boy whined, frantically rubbing his arms for warmth since they were regretfully left exposed by the “CHOCOBO X-ING” t-shirt he had decided was not only cool enough to buy after his second play-through of Final Fantasy VII, but was cool enough to continue wearing after his seventh play-through.

Jack just stared back.

“You’re kidding!  It’s Freddy!”

Jack continued to stare.

“You know, ‘Final Freddy’?” he attempted, tugging on his shirt as proof.

Jack scratched his right thigh and turned it smoothly into a shrug.

“Oh for God’s sake, Freddy, from Saving Throw!  We met last night?”

Jack’s eyes widened.  “OHHHH!  RIGHT!  Freddy!  How could I forget?!” he replied with his best cheer, stretching his hand out.

“Give it up, you don’t remember me, you prick,” Freddy challenged, refusing to shake Jack’s hand.

“Okay, you’re right, I’m sorry, but I really am glad to see you.”

“How you can you be glad to see me if you don’t remember me.”

“Because you saw me last night.”

“So?”

Jack stuck his hand in his pockets and quickly searched around him for someplace warm to loiter.  “You look like you’re absolutely freezing; I can’t believe you chased me down without a jacket on.  Can we go inside somewhere and talk?”

“Yeah, fine.  Follow me.”

Freddy and Jack backtracked a couple of blocks and entered the nondescript storefront of Saving Throw, the hobby shop where Freddy worked and spent most of his free time.  Jack absorbed the various Magic: The Gathering and Warhammer paraphernalia lining the walls, and as soon as Freddy took his place behind the counter, and the clang of the front door’s bell dimmed, Jack began his interrogation.

“So, I was here last night?”

“You were here all right,” Freddy called back as he helped himself to a Mountain Dew.  “My friends and I found you in the alley out back breaking fluorescent light bulbs on the pavement and giggling.”

Jack winced.  “Sorry about that.”

“It’s not a big deal,” Freddy assured.  “They were all burnt out anyway.  You were such a fumbling idiot when we caught you that you offered to immediately clean everything up.”

“So I cleaned it up, then I left?”

“No, actually.  You started asking about all these questions about where you were and what this place was, and then instead of waiting for the answers you pushed us out of the way and barged inside.”

“And then what?”

“Well, since you weren’t of the geeky persuasion you started asking us what all this stuff was and what we were doing with it.  I explained all that to you, then explained that we were in the middle of a game of Dungeons and Dragons and politely asked you to leave.”

“Where did I go after that?”

“You didn’t.  You stayed and demanded that we let you play Dungeons and Dragons with us.”

“I did?”

“Yeah, and for some reason we let you.”

“I played Dungeons and Dragons?”

“You played Dungeons and Dragons.”

Jack blushed at his lapse into nerdiness.  “How’d I do?”

Freddy chuckled.  “Surprisingly well.  It was obvious you’d never played before.  You were making things up about your character as you went along and couldn’t grasp the concept of rolling a die with more than six sides, but it was actually because of you that we won the campaign.”

Unwilling to let an opportunity to stroke his ego pass him by, Jack pressed further.  “Really?  How?”

“We were playing a campaign in which we had to save a kingdom from an evil warlock that had been terrorizing it.  We let you join as a human knight named Matthias, but you insisted that we call you ‘Sir Matty the Donkey Puncher’.  Long story short, we encountered a succubus—”

“A succubus?”

“You didn’t know what it was last night either.  It’s a demon that copulates with male adventurers and steals their life force.”

“All of it or just like, some of it?”

“You asked that too—and the answer to that is all of it.  There is no halfway life stealing.”

“Bummer.”

“You were also disappointed by that, so you said, ‘Fuck that I’m still going to fingerblast her’,” Freddy explained, prudishly stumbling over the two F-words.

“So how did that not steal my life force?”

Freddy tried to remain inert, but an awkward excitement crept into his voice.  “Long story short, you left your Gauntlet of the Gnoll King inside of her, which acted as a dildo, which acted as a decoy, and we managed to flee.  Shortly thereafter, we ran into the warlock, and you used your high constitution stat to challenge him to—and win—a drinking contest with him, and while he was passed out our party’s mages sealed him and his magic away, and we won!”  He recognized the fever pitch he had hit and brought himself back down to his nerdier-than-thou tone.  “It was certainly unorthodox…but it was effective.”

“Effective?  That sounds kind of awesome.”

Freddy smirked.  “Yeah, it kind of was.”

“So then what happened?”

“You yelled ‘Huzzah!  Come my lads, and we shall quaff many goblets of hearty mead in honor of our most righteous victory!’ and dragged everyone who was old enough to drink out to the bar with you.”

“Great!  Where did we go?”

“I don’t know.  I’m not old enough to drink.  Roger would though.”

“Who’s Roger?”

“He’s the owner.  You gave him such a bad hangover that he was throwing up all morning.  If his text messages are any indication, he’ll be here in about an hour.”

“Mind if I stay and geek out with you until he shows up?” Jack asked.

Freddy smiled warmly.  “I would be honored, Sir Matty.”

karen // reflections on “fate”

karen // reflections on “fate”

I didn’t want to leave Ryan´s hotel room. For one, it was way off the Strip and would be a hefty cab ride home. For two, something had changed, and I wanted to see what it was.

In any case, I had to get back to the girls, and he had plans, so I’d reluctantly found a cab and started to head back to the hotel.

Vegas looks different in the light of day — less a glittery, sparkly city that begs for high rollers, high heels, and high expectations and more like the aftermath of a drunken, debaucherous party — dirty, pale in the sunlight, and grimy. Like any other city.

Not entirely surprising. Most things look different during the day. Like Ryan.

As the cab makes its way through the city, I remember the light on his body this morning before my phone rang. In the daylight, it was skinner, paler than I remember. His features, too, were almost too sharp to be considered really attractive. Even his dick didn´t look quite as enticing in that light.

But when he woke up to the sound of my ringing phone, I forgot all of my critiques.

“What do you do?” I’d asked him after my phone had died and I´d crawled on top of him.

He smiled. “Can I answer you in about 20 minutes?” I smiled back, nodding as he rolled me over.

Approximately 20 minutes later, he answered. “I work for a non-profit that helps impoverished families buy homes. I work on the design end.”

“Ah, so you´re a Democrat?” I teased. “In bed with a Republican politico? What would your boss say?”

“She’d say, ‘way to infiltrate the enemy camp and plant the idea of affordable housing to families who’ve fallen on hard times,'” he answered without cracking a smile. I raised an eyebrow at him until he gave a small smile of concession. “Look, Karen, the world isn’t just made up of Democrats and Republicans. There are plenty more  viewpoints that fall on either side. You need to stop seeing people like they’re all on different teams. The lines are too fuzzy to define people that way.”

I looked down as he reached to the bedside table for his pack of cigarettes. “That’s not how I see things.”

I waited while he lit, inhaled, passed me the pack. I shook my head.

“Look, I know we don’t talk much. Whatever this is, it’s slightly more carnal than intellectual, but every time we do talk, you’re either bashing on the people you work for, or the people your bosses are fighting against, all the while trying to act like you’re above all of them.”

His words stung a bit, but he said it laughingly, so I laughed with him, and reached for the cigarettes he’d left on the nightstand. “I don’t actually think I’m better than anyone. I just don’t like politics.”

“So why do you work in politics then?”

I sighed. “Because, I couldn’t get another job, and it’s this of pouring coffee or hanging up clothes all day.”

“Are you looking for something else?”

“I don’t have the time.”

He laughed. “If you were as miserable as you say you are and hate it as much as you say you do, you’d find time. I would, anyway.”

I didn’t answer, opting instead to smoke my cigarette and look out the window.

He sighed, took a lighter tone as he smashed out his cigarette. “So what next? What comes after the great Vegas road trip?”

I laughed. “Back to work, I guess.” I finished my cigarette, smashed it out, noting how for the first time since taking up smoking that I didn’t feel like an awkward idiot. “Maybe looking for a new job.”

“Not a terrible idea.” Glancing at the clock, he added, “I hate to do this, but I’ve gotta meet my buddy for lunch in an hour. Think you can find your friends?”

I nodded, took my cue, and got ready to leave. After I’d pulled on my smoky-smelling black dress and stepped into my heels, he pushed me back against the wall and said, “Nice coincidence.” I nodded, putting my arms around his neck while he gave his usual farewell, “Text me when you’re in Portland next.” And when he kissed me, it was different — more intense, a bit more intimate. I felt weak at the knees.

At the thought of that kiss, I smile and look from the cab window to my knees. Usually, when I’d left Ryan’s before, there was always a bit of dismay in the pit of my stomach. But now, it’s not there — there’s something else there.

His concern over my work situation helps to put things in perspective: I’m unhappy. Entirely, totally unhappy. Granted, I’d figured that much out myself, but I never saw that my unhappiness led to the pessimism that seems to have taken over my life. And I couldn’t really see the solution in front of my face — quit. Quit. Never go to another political rally. Never see Jeremiah and his grabby hands again. Never set food in the Capitol building.

Simple enough. Now I just need a plan.

But things will work out, I’m sure of that much. If, after weeks without seeing him, hundreds of miles away from where we normally spend our time together, we can find each other — then surely everything will work out for me.

For this first time in months, I feel hopeful, I think as I step out of the cab, wallet much lighter than it was when I stepped into it.

I’m smiling, oblivious to the ambiance around me, as I waltz into the lobby and onto the elevator.

“Someone got happy last night,” a voice says behind me, a mocking smile in her tone. When I look up, I see Sophie looking at me, a cup of coffee in one hand, a box of donuts in the other. “Looks like you could use a sugar rush. Donut?”

valencia // breakdown

“You don’t have to do this,” James said, as I came back to the bed with a wet cloth. He lowered the ice and gently I pressed the cloth to his face, wiping the blood from his skin.

“I don’t mind,” I said, smiling gently. He returned the smile and I found it hard to resist his charm. He must have mastered the art – with his good looks and strong jaw… and his body. We still hadn’t figured out why he was lying in Sophie’s bed in his underwear and why he didn’t have any clothes lying around but I didn’t mind at all. He was sexy. I’d been in a serious relationship since I was sixteen and still a virgin. I’d only slept with one person. No wonder this sexy, rough, and bloody stranger made me feel so hot. I was free from my boyfriend for the first time in seven years. Who cares if he hypothetically belonged to Sophie? I barely knew her. What did I care?

Darcy stormed back into the hotel room from the balcony.

“I need a fucking cigarette,” she said. “V?”

I looked over my shoulder at her, feeling James’ eyes on me as I turned away from him. “I’m out,” I told her. “Sorry, Darce.”

“Fuck,” she said, looking at James. “You? You have any?”

“I don’t smoke,” he said. “Sorry.”

“God damn it. You’re useless,” Darcy said, pointing an accusatory finger at him. “I hope that naked man in my bed has more than just condoms in his pockets. V, wait here for Sophie and… hopefully Karen.”

“Sure,” I nodded, as she hurried out of the room and slammed the door shut behind her. I turned back to James, bringing the cloth back to his face. He was still smiling.

“How do you girls know Sophie?” he asked, shifting his weight and coming in closer to me.

“We don’t really,” I confessed. He laughed. “Sophie was with Darcy and Karen. I met them last night. They needed a ride and I needed help paying for a hotel room. Voila. Problem solved.”

“You’re all sharing a hotel room and you don’t know anything about each other?” he asked.

“Worse things could have happened,” I said, wiping the last of the blood off of his face. “It seems like you’re the one who should be questioning your involvement with Sophie. We aren’t the ones who got punched in the face.”

He laughed again and shook his head. “Well, I deserved what I got,” he said. “I am, however, slightly concerned that she might have drugged me or something and who knows what she did once I was out. You don’t remember seeing me here last night?”

I shook my head. “No,” I said. “Sorry.” I smiled at him. “I wish I remembered you.”

He smiled and reached up, gently brushing his fingers under my chin.

“A pretty girl like you,” he said. “You should be more careful in a city like this.”

Oh my God, my head just dropped right to my crotch. His eyes were absolutely…

“Ahem.”

Broken from my trance by the sound of her voice, I whipped my head to the right to see that Sophie had just stepped into the room. Right behind her stood my boyfriend, Caleb, who I hadn’t seen since my graduation party a few days before. In his hand he held a leash which was attached to the dog that I’d completely forgotten about and had apparently misplaced.

“Look who I found in the hallway,” she said. “I recognized the dog but not the boy. Turns out that they know each other. Weird.”

I pushed away from James and came to my feet, making eye contact with Caleb. He was angry, I could see it in his eyes. I didn’t blame him. Not only had I disappeared from San Francisco without an explanation but he’d called me for an answer and I’d just hung up on him and now he walked into a hotel room in Las Vegas to find me in a bed with my face six inches away from a sexy naked man.

“Caleb…” I said, stepping towards him. “How…”

“Not here, Cia,” he said, nodding to James and Sophie, who had walked across the room to set a box of donuts and four coffees on the table beside the window.

“Okay,” I nodded. “Sophie, I’ll just…”

“Sure thing, Cia,” she said, nodding. “Do what you need to do.”

I stepped forward and gently touched Caleb’s forearm to lead him out of the room. He pulled away from me and it tore my heart in two. As we stepped into the hallway, it sounded as if Sophie might have punched James in the face again but I couldn’t concern myself with that anymore. I shut the door and looked up to my boyfriend. I’d been away from him for so long and had put my mind on so many different things, that I’d allowed myself to forget how much I loved him. Just seeing his face again made me feel safe. His messy hair, his brown eyes, the lips that I loved kissing. Tears came to my eyes as I realized how badly I had treated him over the past few days.

“Cia, don’t,” he said. “Don’t even start. After what you did to me, and to your aunt and your sister… that’s not fair. Don’t give me that.”

“Caleb, I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes. “I don’t even know what I was thinking…”

“Damn right, you don’t!” he cried, dropping the loop of Charlie’s leash around the door knob of Sophie’s room. “What the hell are you doing, Cia? What are you trying to prove? Look at you! You look like shit… like a two dollar hooker. And who the hell was that guy?”

“He’s no one! I just met him, I was just…”

“You’re throwing our relationship away over no one?!” he cried.

“No, Caleb… I’m not…” I started but I lost my breath as a sob overtook my composure. I inhaled sharply and looked up at him through my tears. “I’m going through something… and I don’t… I don’t…” I covered my face with my hands as I started sobbing again. I couldn’t find my words or the explanation that I needed to give him. I wasn’t so sure that I even had one. Although I’d had a purpose when I first headed towards Las Vegas, it seemed like I’d let the night get away from me and I’d lost my way.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Cia. After you called me from a bar in Oregon and then hung up on me, I spent the whole night worrying about you. And then at 4 o’clock this morning I get a call from a hotel manager in Las Vegas because my dog has been found wandering the halls alone. They were going to throw him in the pound so thank God that he had my phone number on his tags because who the hell knows what kind of state you were in to have lost him in the first place. What choice did I have but to get on a plane and come rescue him from whatever shit storm you’d created?” he yelled.

“Caleb, I’m sorry! I can’t say that again. I’m just… I’m looking for my mom. I need to find her,” I said. “This is what this has been about and I just… I met these friends and… it felt good to let go a little bit and stop thinking about it for just one night.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and looked down at me. “And you couldn’t come to me for that, Cia? I know more about your relationship with your mom than anyone else and you couldn’t trust me enough to talk to me about this?”

I sighed softly and wiped my eyes again. I shook my head. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, Caleb,” I said. “But our whole relationship is framed around my mom’s illness and I just…” I sighed deeply and looked at my boyfriend, unable to stop myself from crying. “I don’t even know what you’re doing here. Why do you keep going through this with me? I’m just like her.”

Caleb sighed and reached for me. “Cia… I’m here because I love you,” he said. “Okay? You’re not making any sense right now but you’re not anything like your mother. Look at me.” He hooked his finger underneath my chin, just like James had done just ten minutes earlier. The difference this time was that the eyes looking into mine were genuine. Caleb was everything that I had, he was my past and my future, my forever. I had put him through all of this and for what? I was chasing a ghost through the desert. My mother wasn’t dead but she was nothing more than a memory to me. It’d been so long since I’d seen her. What was I looking for?

“You’re stronger than she ever was, Cia,” he said, brushing his fingers against my cheek. He was saving me from myself again, just like he always did. He’d been saving me since I was sixteen years old. He pulled me into his arms and he kissed my forehead gently. “And because of that, you’re going to get yourself out of this mess and finish whatever it is that you’ve started here, okay?”

I nodded, burying my face into the comfort of his t-shirt. He smelled like home. Safe and familiar.

“Okay,” I said.

“I booked a room on the first floor,” he said. “148. When you’ve said good bye to your… friends… and after you get your shit together, I’ll be downstairs with Charlie waiting for you.” He was still frustrated with me, I could hear it in his voice but at least he was holding me. At least I still had that.

jack // friendship is magic

Jeremy came to his front door, his eyelids at half mast.  Jack stopped a moment to take in Lizzie’s neighbor’s dirty white wool poncho that gave way to a pair of Scooby Doo boxer shorts at his waistline.  His unwashed brown hair stood up in various strands and locks.  Combined with the cloud of cannabis smoke that habitually followed him around, he looked like a stoner version of Pigpen.

“Well hey man, what’s goin’ on?” he welcomed, each word drawling smoothly together with the same rehearsed quality of an answering machine; a greeting, though clearly there was no one home.

“Are you even trying to pretend you’re not a weed dealer anymore?” Jack replied.

“Nah.  I’ve been calling the police with anonymous tips about ‘huge drug deals on the south end’, so they’re too busy chasing geese to give a shit about what I’m doing,” he explained with a self-satisfied chuckle.

“You mean you sent them on a wild goose chase?”

“Yeah, something like that, if geese still lived in the wild I guess.  You wanna come inside?”

“Sure.”

Jeremy pointed Jack down the short hallway leading to the living room and motioned for him to sit down.  There was an open box of Crunch Berries on the coffee table and a paused episode of My Little Pony on the TV.

“You know man, I’m really glad you came by.  You haven’t bought from me for, like, months.  I was starting to miss getting baked and playing Street Fighter with you.”

“Jer, I’m sorry to say that I’m not here to buy or toke—”

“Not even a puff?  Come on dude, I just got this crazy shit in, this past week.  You have to.”

“No, really, I can’t—”

“Jackie.  It’s called ‘Berserker’.”

“…as in a six-and-a-half-foot tall, axe-wielding maniac Norse warrior covered in wolf pelts?”

“I don’t know man.  I guess, if you’re into that sort of thing.”

“Alright, fine.  But do we really have to watch My Little Pony?”

“Yeah we really do.”

Jack looked over with a slight glare crossing his face.

“Dude, Jack, it’s chill.  The purple pony brought this bug into Pony Village and then it multiplied and all the multiplied bugs started eating everything, so they cast a spell on them to make them stop eating shit but it backfired and now they’re eating even more shit and the pony in the cowboy hat can’t figure out how to get rid of them.”  Jack raised a skeptical eyebrow.  “It sounds pretty dense and complicated, but don’t worry; you’re a smart guy, you’ll catch up in no time.  Now here, start catching up,” Jeremy implored, handing his beloved moss green glass bowl, “Toady”, to Jack.

Jack took a deep pull from the pipe, holding it in for a few seconds before breaking into an uncontrollable sputtering cough.

“Whoaaaaaaaaaaa, easy big guy.  It really has been a while for you, hasn’t it?” Jeremy politely teased as he handed Jack a stale glass of water, just before taking a hit of his own.  He then tried handing Toady back to Jack, who stifled a cough and waved it away.  “Come on Jackie, it’s like they say: in for a penny, in for a gallon.”

Jack was grounded enough for him to notice that was not how the saying went, but already high enough for its logic to check out.  He took a sip of water and nodded with reserved excitement.

After each had had four hits, the bowl was kicked.  Jeremy resumed the episode of My Little Pony.  Jack sank deep into the cushions of the couch, sticking to it as if the green suede had sprouted thousands of tiny hooks, velcroing him in place.

Episode after episode of My Little Pony galloped by, the two so absorbed by it that they didn’t really acknowledge each other until the end of the fourth episode.

“So…it just kinda hit me,” Jeremy began as he searched his DVR for the next episode to watch.  “If you weren’t here for weed, why did you come over?”

“Do you want me to leave?”

“No, no, no.  Stay as long as you want, man,” Jeremy backpedaled.  “But when you came to the door you said you weren’t here for weed.  What were you here for?”

“Huh? Uh…”

Centuries passed inside of Jack’s labored “uh”s.

“Oh, right.  I wanted to know what happened to me last night.  After Lizzie’s.”

Jeremy burst out into giggles.

“Oh no.  Jer.  What did I do?” Jack pleaded, his worry more than palpable.

“No, nothing bad.  Just funny,” Jeremy assured him, snickers punctuating almost every syllable.

“TELL ME!”

“Duuuuuude, you’re freaking out.  Calm down, it’s fine,” Jeremy cooed.  Another chuckle crept out.  “After you convinced me to help your prank and call those trannies I met in jail, we went to this house party in the North End.”

“Who do we know in the North End?”

“We…we don’t.  I do though.  Some rich kid from the university who buys from me invited me to some kid’s house, and you were in the mood to party, so I took you with me.”

“So what happened then?”

“It was a typical college house party.  You know the deal, a couple of chill people and a bunch of underage morons.”

“So what was so funny about that?”

Jeremy started packing a second bowl.

“You really don’t remember any of this?”  Jack shook his head, Jeremy took a hit from the refreshed Toady.  “Alright.  This is how I remember it.

“We showed up…I don’t know.  Let’s sayyyyy 9:30?  Yeah.  9:30. So we get there and almost immediately some chubby 19-year-old latches onto you and you two start making out.  So you sat on the couch and did that for a while.”

“A chubby girl?”

“Dude it’s not like she was the Michelin Tire Man.  I’m a better wingman than that.”

“Okay, then what?”

“What?”

“The story.”

“Oh.  Right.  Where was I?”

“Chubby girl.”

“Word.  Okay, so you were probably macking on that girl for like…a half hour, when all of a sudden this kinda beefy-looking guy and some chick started going at it in the kitchen.”

“Fucking?”

“Nah man, fighting.  After some shouting, he ended up hitting her pretty hard.  You must have heard it or seen it out of the corner of your eye or something, but you shoved the chubby girl off of you and stormed into the kitchen and separated them and started having words with the guy.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, really.  I’ve never seen you like that man, it was so weird.  But it’s not even done getting weird.  Not even done.

“You start getting into it with this guy.  And you are really giving him the business.  Like there was some insult you used on him that somehow combined references to OJ Simpson and Spongebob Squarepants.  I don’t even know.  It was like watching a star explode.  You were out of your mind.

“Eventually he comes at you, and out of nowhere you cold-cocked him with a bottle of Newcastle.”

“I what?”

“I shit you not; you knocked this guy’s fucking lights out with an empty beer bottle,” he confirmed, with a note of rising excitement in his voice.  “I don’t even know where you got that beer bottle.  It was nuts.  Everyone was just sort of standing there shocked as hell, and you wiped the prints off the bottle neck and put it in the guy’s hand, as if he’d done it himself.  Like anyone would believe he’d done it to himself.

“Then you grabbed that chick by the shoulders, shook her and said something insane, like…” Jeremy took another hit and coaxed forth his best Jack impression.  “‘Run!  Flee from this place!  Spread your wings and fly into the inky purple night!  Head for the stars my angel!’”  He shouted, sounding more like Jack doing an impression of Jeremy doing an impression of John Cleese before deteriorating into raucous laughter.

“Okay now you’re just making shit up.”

Jeremy composed himself just enough to answer.  “Mostly.  I don’t know.  I’m like…paraphrasing.  Or alterna-phrasing.  Or something-phrasing.  I don’t know, you said some kind of nutty ‘knight in shining armor’ bullshit.”

“Alright, what next?”

“You can’t guess?  Someone called the cops.  I got you the fuck out of there.”

“Where did we go?”

“We started walking downtown.  You said you wanted to follow that girl and see if she was okay.”

“Really?  Did I know her or something?”

“Before you gave her boyfriend a concussion?  I don’t think so.  Actually from what I could gather, no one did.  I think they were crashers or something.”

“What did she look like?”

“I don’t really remember.  White girl.  Brown hair.”

Despite the description’s vagueness, Jack managed to peel himself up from the back cushion of the couch.  “Was she wearing a weird jacket?”

Jeremy raised an eyebrow.  “Yeah, she was wearing this dumb, like…marching band uniform jacket or something.  I thought you said you didn’t remember anything!”

“I don’t, but Cliff said that girl walked out of my bedroom this morning!”

“Dude!  You smashed that!?  No way!”

“Yeah way!” he affirmed as they shared a rubber-armed high five.  “That’s why I’m asking about last night.  Why do you sound so surprised?”

“Because we never found her.  We ended up walking around downtown and I got a call from Lizzie about those hookers.  I turned my back for about a second, and when I got off the phone you were gone.  So instead of running after you, I blamed you for the hookers and I took a five minute cab ride back here so I could help her get rid of them.”

“So I ended up downtown?”

“Yeah.”

“And you’re sure you don’t know anything else?”

“Yeah.  I guess you should head downtown if you’re gonna keep trying to figure that shit out and find out who that girl you banged is.”

“Aw, man, this is so great.  Thanks.  Then that’s where I’m headed.  It has been an enlightening visit, Jer, as per usual,” Jack said as he tried to get up.  His equilibrium was a little more than off, so he quickly sank back down onto the couch.  “Actually I’m just gonna stay riiiight here for a little longer.  That cool?”

“Yeah man.  We still have half a season of My Little Pony to crank through.”

“Solid.

“Hey, wait, you pinned the whole drag queen stunt on me?”

“Why wouldn’t I?  All I did was give you a phone number.  I just left that part out so she’d continue tolerating me as a neighbor.”

“Okay.  That’s reasonable.  I get that.  Pass me the Crunch Berries.”

jack // bad scene, everyone’s fault

The first stop was Lizzie’s house.  She lived on the west side of town, across the river and a couple of blocks from the hospital.  Her neighborhood had become gradually seedier over the past several years, but in recent times the weed dealers living around the corner, across the street, and in the other half of the duplex had actually managed to spice up Lizzie’s historically dull get-togethers.

As Jack approached her brick duplex, it seemed anachronistic in every sense of the word—too classically designed and well-lived-in to be modern, too maintained to seem older than the surrounding circa 1983 split levels still wrapped in crumbling, defective Masonite siding.

He gave her front door three solid knocks and quickly jammed his hands back into the pockets of his dirty jeans.  In a perfect world, he would have put on a clean pair, but they were the only pair he owned that smelled like anything besides spilled booze and cigarette smoke; instead, they smelled faintly of old, damp leather.  He half-jokingly thought that they went well with his road-salt-encrusted Nikes and his homemade gray Ampere t-shirt covered over by an olive green flannel covered over by a sky blue hoodie covered over by a black peacoat from Old Navy.  Not only was he well insulated from the brisk mid-winter winds, but he fancied that he looked “hungover” but “like he meant business”.

Moments passed without any signs of life from inside.  Jack’s firm but polite knocks turned into demanding pounds.  They were answered by the sound of bottles and cans tumbling onto hardwood floor.

“JESUS CHRIST.  I’M COMING,” a voice shouted from inside.

The door swung open to reveal an unkempt and extremely unhappy looking Lizzie.  She was clad from head to toe in pink-on-gray American Eagle sweats.  The bags under her eyes looked like they could have held a week’s worth of groceries, and her dirty blonde hair was pulled into a greasy ponytail that burst, without irony, from the very top of her head.

“Hi there, sweetness!” Jack greeted with a smirk.

“No.  Absolutely not,” Lizzie scowled.  “Go the fuck home.”

“Come on, I just came to see if you wanted some help cleaning up!” he lied, smiling harder.

“You’re going to actually help?”

“Yeah!”

“Fine.  The second you stop cleaning I’m throwing your ass out,” Lizzie threatened as she opened the door the entire way and let Jack in.  He immediately took off his peacoat, grabbed a broom, and began to tidy up.  He soon took it upon himself to try and break through the uncomfortable din of crinkling PBR cans.

“So…hell of a party last night, eh?”

“I said you can help clean, I didn’t say you could talk.”

Jack accepted those conditions for another few moments before trying again.  “You seem kinda mad about something.”

Lizzie dropped the Heineken bottle in her hands, shattering it on the floor.  “Did you really just say that?”

“What do you mean?”

“You’re kidding.  You’re fucking kidding me.  Right?”

“I kinda…don’t really…”

“Don’t remember?”

“Yeah, not so much.”

“Jack was blacked out, shocker of the century.”

“Did I even do anything or is this going to be just like when we were dating and kept having that argument about my drinking?”

“You’re really going to bring that up again?  It was a mutual breakup, we both decided we were just going to try the friend thing again, why do you keep acting like I ruined your life?”

“Hey, I’m not the one who’s making it weird.”

“I’m making it weird?  I’m making it weird?  What do you call ordering two gay escorts for my new boyfriend last night?  That’s not weird?”

Jack straightened up for a second.  “Wait, what?”

“Yeah.  You used my land line to hire two drag queens to ‘party’ with Eric.”

He leaned playfully on his broom handle.  “If we’re being honest, I would call that pretty resourceful.”

“WHAT?!”

“I mean, I don’t know where to get a regular prostitute in this city, where would I find two drag queens?”

Lizzie lobbed a half-full can of beer at him.  “This isn’t a fucking joke, Jack!  It’s been more than six months since we’ve broken up, and every time I try to get back in the saddle and date other guys, you do something to try to ruin it for me.  You need to move the fuck on and stop bothering me like this.”  She began to hastily cram bottles into a black garbage bag, the glass clanging in time with her anger.  “I thought maybe, just maybe, you came back this morning to at least apologize for calling two gay hookers to my house and leaving before they arrived and started drinking and trashed the place, but obviously that’s giving you too much credit—”

“So you saw me leave?”

“How could I miss it?  You slapped me on the ass and said you had a ‘gay old time’ before taking off.”

“Who did I leave with?”

She stopped her frustrated cleaning.  “Is that what you came here for?  To ask me what happened to you last night?”

“It might be…”

“‘It might be?’” Lizzie mocked.  She took two wide steps around the party garbage to stand face to face with Jack.  “I’ll tell you.  But after I tell you, you will leave and I will not see you again.  Understand?”

“Forever?”

“Let’s just say it’s a long enough time that it might as well be forever.”

“Okay.”

“Alright.  You left with Jeremy and one of his buddies.”

“Jeremy, other side of the duplex Jeremy?”

“Yeah, that Jeremy.  Also, my TV remote is missing, and I’m betting you’re behind it.  If you are, have Cliff drop it by sometime.”

“Okay.”

“Now,” Lizzie began, thrusting Jack’s coat towards him at arm’s length.  “If you’ll excuse me, I have some cleaning to do.”