Chapter 14: Postcards from the Edge, part I
I ran my fingers back and forth across his arm, until all the short, dark hairs stood on end. Then I smoothed them back down. I traced the outline of the thick, pinkish scar on his elbow (he crashed his dirtbike a couple years ago), and down across the crook of his arm. He shuddered slightly at that, so I caressed it again. I slid down the mattress, and brushed my lips against the smooth, tender spot. His body was so hard, but it responded to my every touch, anticipated my every move. His other arm was pinned beneath me, and he pressed against me until he freed it, then cupped the nape of my neck in his hand, and started to rub gently. His touch excited all the downy hairs at the base of my hairline, and a shiver of pleasure ran through me. I buried my face in his long, curly hair, and breathed him in, like nitrous oxide at a dentist's office. The effect was startlingly similar. He smelled like sweat and cigarettes, with a hint of the spice (paprika?) he'd used in the pasta sauce last night.
He grabbed my head in his hands, and pulled it back, so my eyes met his. "Don't," he said. "I haven't showered. I'm stinky."
"Stinky, or sexy?" I muttered, brushing his hair back so I could nibble at his ear.
"Stinky," he replied. "And hungry."
My hand crept into the pocket of his jeans, and pulled out the battered old sports watch he'd removed during the game last night.
He chuckled, and yanked the watch from my grip. "You fiend. You totally copped a feel when you did that."
I grinned in response. "Maybe. What time is it?"
He squinted at the timepiece in his hand. "After one. We slept hard."
"That means Dad's probably gone, along with the leftovers from last night. Go upstairs and shower, and we'll head over to Johnny's for something to eat."
He sat up, so he was straddling my chest, and kissed my nose once before getting up. "You want to join me?"
"Don't tempt me," I said, propping myself up on an elbow. "You said you're stinky; you know it's impossible to wash with both of us in there. Last time, we nearly broke through the wall."
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered, as he bent over in a corner, while I enjoyed the sights. "Fult, have you seen my underwear?"
I checked under the covers, then took a look around the room. "I don't see them anywhere."
"See if you can find them, won't you?" he asked as he slipped my old Pink Floyd t-shirt over his head; it didn't quite cover the lower curve of his ass, and the tip of his penis dangled visibly. I licked my lips, and stared. "You know I hate boxers." Déjà-vu. Or more like déjà-entendu. Where were we the first time he said that? My boyfriend was quite partial to boxer briefs, much to my delight; he preferred going commando to wearing shorts.
I nodded. "I'll look."
He stopped by my ghetto blaster long enough to put in a CD, and press play. The first loud, no-nonsense chords, as played with trademark verve by Johnny, of the Ramones' Too Tough To Die album filled the room. "Back in a minute," he said. And he was gone.
I lay there on the mattress for a while, just listening. Listening to a dead man sing, and another play bass. Was today Thursday? I wasn't sure. I wasn't even sure what month it was, until I really thought about it. January. It was the first week of January. School had started up again, but we hadn't been back yet. Had it really been only five weeks since it began? I marveled at the way time could telescope like that, stretching minutes into hours, or months into days. And it never worked the way you wanted it to, did it?
This was probably what my mom felt like after coming down from a really long bender; all the memories of the past few weeks seemed to pile up randomly on top of each other, regardless of the time of their occurrence. Already, my life before Portman was like something that had happened to somebody else, like scary bedtime stories told to me that I never quite believed. I imagined Portman in the bathroom, stepping out of his boxer briefs, reaching one long, tanned arm past the curtain to turn on the water...
I looked down in surprise, my fingers still clasping the zipper of his jeans. He wasn't wearing any underwear.
"All my briefs are dirty; I hate wearing boxers," he spoke casually, but with a gleam in his eye that made me suspect that a lack of clean garments wasn't the only reason behind this. He must have anticipated this moment, much as I had, in thinking to bring a tiny jar of Vaseline to a punk show. We were in the men's room of Buster's Ballroom, and the walls trembled with the vibrations from the Salad Kings' wicked baselines, while I trembled with the vibrations of love. Vibrations of love? I must be stoned.
"Here," I muttered, slipping the jar into Portman's palm. He didn't respond verbally, but instead, stroked my cheek and stared at me, reading the willingness in my eyes.
I turned around so I was facing the wall, and tried to keep my breathing under control as he worked on my fly.
Pants fell, hands groped, a piece of him entered my body. It hurt a lot. I never wanted it to end. The grungy tiles felt like soothing ice against my face, and I felt like crying for the first time in years. I doubted if I even remembered how, it had been so long. His arms encircled me, and his mouth worked feverishly at my neck, biting, kissing, sucking. He moaned. I moaned. The toilet flushed in the stall beside us, and I heard a voice mutter: "Fucking queers."
A small laugh escaped my lips, hanging in the air for a moment, before drifting away. 'Where do all the laughs go?' I wondered vaguely, before Portman started to speed up, and the remains of conscious thought floated away after the laughter.
For someone like me, it was akin to waking up from an enchanted sleep. That first time had been... but was it the first? There had been so many... yes, that was it. In a public washroom at Buster's. We'd gone back there since then, a week or two ago, to see the Dead Pigs, and I remembered how the place had seemed to pulse with new life, new life infused into it from what had passed there between Portman and myself. Every place where we spent time together was like that now, like it had been born again, just as I had.
The sound of the water from the shower above my head was still going strong. When Portman was done, I'd have a quick wash myself, and then we'd go over to Johnny's. Not only had Portman brought me to life with his beautiful self, but he was helping me to start interacting with other people as well. The Swordfish were the perfect example, but there was more than that. He brought me into his life, and into those of all the people in it. I'd met Angel, hung out with Laney, had dinner with his mom, and spent more time at Johnny's greenhouse in one week than I used to spend at my house in an entire month.
While all my instincts screamed at me that Johnny was too good to be true, and not to trust him, I knew this was bullshit; I'd thought the same thing about Portman, once. That someone like Portman existed, and that he loved someone like me, were unbelievable enough by themselves, but when you threw Johnny into the mix... He wasn't just pretending to like me for Portman's sake, either. He honestly cared about me, about both of us, and all he wanted was for us to be happy. He'd told me that the first time I met him, and as hard as it was for me to believe him, somehow, I'd managed it. I think the first time it really hit home for me was the night he came to drive us home, about two weeks after the hockey showdown. We'd taken the Caddy down to St. Paul to sneak into the Vandals show. They'd played the Arena, a 21 show, with a beer garden.
Since we had money from working at J.J.'s, and since Portman was a drunk, and I'd never had the chance to build up a tolerance to alcohol (was there a time when the very idea of drinking was enough to scare me shitless? I almost remember that...), we left the Arena that night in a less than sober state. I was actually drunk enough to think I could handle driving home, but thank God, Portman was a bit more lucid. He called Johnny, who, despite the late hour, was more than willing to taxi all the way down to St. Paul to drive us home in my car...
"1335 Brownstone Drive, your number is... UP!" I swung the bat, and connected with the wooden mailbox. It sailed through the air, and I whipped my head around to watch it crash-land on the pavement behind us, sending canary yellow splinters flying everywhere.
The Cadillac swerved slightly, but quickly regained control. I ducked back inside and sat down, handing the bat to Portman and brushing the wind-swept hair from my eyes. "Your turn."
"Jesus CHRIST!" Johnny yelled from the front seat. "Was that a mailbox?"
"What'd you think it was, genius?" Portman muttered. "Skooch over, Fult. I gotta get onto your side."
It was hard going, trying to exchange places with him, even in the Caddy. He had to press tight against me to get by (or maybe he didn't, but anyway, that's what he did), and by the time we'd both sat back down, I was more than a little aroused. I could see Johnny shaking his head at us in the rearview mirror, but that didn't stop his eyes from smiling.
"What are you doing with a baseball bat in your car, anyway?"
"Fulton uses it to mug old ladies," Portman quipped. Johnny rolled his eyes exasperatedly, but the corners of his mouth were twitching. "What, you didn't know?" he asked. He peered out the window, looking for a target, but the stretch of road we were on now housed nothing but convenience stores and drycleaners with giant light-up signs that wouldn't look out of place on the Vegas strip.
"You kids are going to get all of us arrested; would you still think it's funny then?"
Portman and I looked at each other for a moment, then nodded. "Even funnier, maybe," Portman added. "But don't worry, Johnny, we'd keep you from being some biker's bitch."
"Thank you, Dean, that's very reassuring."
"Dean," I said softly. "Dean. Maybe I should start calling you Dean. I don't know of anyone who calls their boyfriend by his last name."
"Well, you do now," Portman growled. "Unless you want me to start calling you by your middle name, CECIL."
"All right, all right," I muttered. "Peace. Hey, look, there are some houses coming up."
"Oh no," Johnny moaned. "Not again."
But even he was laughing as Portman wound up, and connected with the aluminum mailbox of 668 Main Street. It had one of those red plastic flags that mailmen used to indicate a delivery had been made, and the number was painted in white on its side. The mailbox flew almost straight up into the air. Portman leaned further out the window, but then dropped back into his seat. "What a gyp, I couldn't see where it land--"
THUD. It hit the roof of the car, and bounced off. It landed on the road, and the Cadillac gave a great jolt as it ran over its remains. Portman and I were in hysterics, and Johnny was still whooping it up in the front seat.
Two mailboxes later, I was lying with my head in Portman's lap, trying to control the nausea that was threatening to rise up in my stomach. I was sore all over from the concert, and while most of the sweat on my body had dried up, my clothes were still soaked, and the chilly night air coming through the open window blasted through them, making me shiver.
I could see Johnny's eyes in the rearview, regarding me with concern. "Are you okay, Fulton? Do you want me to pull over?"
I shook my head. "I'm fine, thanks. It'll pass."
The feeling did pass, and by the time we were back in Minneapolis, I was in high spirits again. Johnny pulled over in front of my complex, but after Portman pointed out that the lights were on in my place, he said that we owed him for coming to pick us up, and that we'd stay at his place tonight, and help him in the greenhouse tomorrow. At the time I was a little annoyed, because like I said, I was feeling good, and had been making a list of things I wanted to tell my dad, all of which revolved around his being an evil rat bastard. In retrospect, Johnny likely saved me from innumerable injuries by not letting me out of the car. He never acted like he did, though, or even mentioned it again, except to laugh at how drunk I'd been, and the ensuing game of mailbox baseball.
That was Johnny for you. He never judged us, or got on our backs about our antics, or the way we never went to school. He'd only intervene when he really believed we were doing something we would later regret, and to that effect, he was rarely mistaken. He always said he believed in letting people live their own lives, and make their own mistakes. I asked him once why he never tried to change how we were, and he only looked at me in surprise. "Why would I want to do that? And more importantly, what makes you think I even could?"
Well, that one was easy enough: Because Portman and me, we'd do anything for him. He'd built up such a bank of trust with Portman over the years, and that account had been transferred over to myself since the two of us got together; if Johnny had told us to put on grass skirts and dance the hula on his front lawn, we'd have done it, no questions. But he never asked anything of us. He gave us food, friendship, drugs, advice, and a place to go to whenever we needed it. He gave me the first bit of hope that Portman and I could make it in the world together. I remembered lounging around Portman's apartment, a few days after the Vandals show, and we got to talking about how they'd first met:
"You were eleven, right? The thing is, I just can't see Johnny going out with your mom. No offense."
"None taken," Portman wheezed, ashing the joint he was holding, and passing it to me. "Actually, I was the one who introduced them."
"Really? How'd that happen?"
He got a far-away look in his eyes, which meant he was remembering something he'd rather forget. I got up to open the window to diffuse the smoke, and waited for him to continue.
"Remember that Dylan guy I told you about?" I nodded, saying nothing. One of his mother's ex-boyfriends, the guy was a real nasty bit of work, from what I'd gathered. Portman didn't like to talk about it, but from off-hand references and a couple drunken revelations, I'd pieced most of it together:
When they were still living in Chicago, his mother had been quite smitten with this Dylan guy, who worked as a roadie for Slipknot, and other bands. He'd returned her affections, but hadn't been so keen on her baggage, and he'd started in on Portman almost immediately, locking him in the bathroom when his mother was out, hitting him every time he turned around. It was over eight months before Mary believed him, and another two before she finally got around to dumping the asshole because of it. Then Dylan would promise he'd changed, that he was ready to settle down, and that he'd take it easy on Portman from now on. Of course, he never did, and it was four more months, and a couple more make-up-break-ups, before he pushed Portman's mom down two flights of stairs after she intervened on his behalf, that she finally decide to end it for good. Dylan didn't take the news very well, and after a lot of creepy, stalker-of-the-week shit, Portman and his mom moved to Minnesota.
"I know it sounds weird for an eleven-year-old boy to be depressed, but I was. My mom blamed me for what happened with Dylan, and I guess she was right about that. I'd never had a father, so when I told her about what he did, and she said that's what all fathers were like, I took her word for it, you know? Her first boyfriend in Minnesota wasn't nearly as bad, but once the school called my home because I was fighting so much, and he beat me up a bit for it. That sort of set me off, and I'd stay away from home for days at a time, sleeping in parks or kids' houses; I even slept at the school. My mother never said anything about it, in fact, she seemed happier now I was never around, and that only made things worse. I didn't understand enough to blame anyone but myself for all of it.
"One day, I was climbing trees in Echo Park, and heard the ice cream truck jingling. I didn't have any money, but I got down from the tree to watch the other kids line up in front of it. I was considering beating one of them up, and stealing their ice cream, when Johnny came up to me, and offered me five bucks. He didn't say anything, just held it out, and nodded at the truck. I took the money and ran, but when I came back with my fudgesicle, he was sitting on a bench with a sketchbook in his lap, drawing. I watched him for a while, before walking over to see what he was drawing. It was me. He was putting the finishing touches on a picture of me hanging from a branch by my knees, with my shirt up around my armpits.
"He gestured for me to sit down beside him, so I did. He showed me the other pictures in his book, and said I could have the one of me, if I wanted. I asked if I could have the picture of two dogs playing instead. I didn't have anything to give him in return, so I offered him a bite of my fudgesicle."
At this point, Portman took a deep hit from the joint, and smiled at me shakily. "I know this sounds stupid, but that was the moment I knew I could trust him: when he took a bite of my ice cream. If he hadn't done that, I think I would have just walked away..."
As it was, Portman didn't walk away, and Johnny ended up taking him out for a hamburger, and a movie. "We saw Independence Day, and afterwards, we had a serious talk about the existence of aliens. Any other adult would have been bored, or told me to shut up. Johnny was only 21 at the time, but that didn't make much difference to me; I thought all adults were the same, that they stopped growing and maturing as soon as their bodies did.
"I saw him in the park a few times after that, and once he took me to an all-night diner sometime after midnight. We talked a lot, and he learned all about my mom, and Dylan, and everything. After that, he walked me home, and came with me to our apartment. I didn't want him to, but he said he had to talk to my mom. They sat together in the kitchen, and I listened from my room. I could hear him telling her that I was too young to be out alone that late in this neighbourhood, and that she should take more responsibility for me. She loaded it on thick about working overtime to pay the bills, and how I never got along with any of her boyfriends. I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but the next thing I knew, Johnny was spending the night at our place.
"He took me to the fair, and showed me how to cook, and got this guy at the local gym to show me some basic fighting techniques. He made me promise I'd use them if anyone ever tried to hurt me, no matter who they were. He also told me about Ghandi, and his own views on violence, but that self-defense was separate from that. The next time mom's boyfriend hit me (she was going out with him at the same time as Johnny, unbeknownst to both of them), I hit him right back, and after that, I never had any problems standing up for myself. I think I just needed someone to tell me it was alright."
I'd heard most of the stories of Portman and Johnny's first few meetings before, but I never grew tired of them. I'd make Portman recount his first experiences with Johnny's greenhouse, his psychedelic living quarters and psychotropic produce, again and again. I loved to imagine myself into these stories, as if I had been with the two of them all along, instead of only a few short months. How different things would be, if that were true. How different /I/ might be...
The door to my room slammed open, revealing a dripping Portman, cleaning his ears with a towel. "Are you still in bed, you lazy shit?" he asked affectionately. "Come on, get up!"
And with that, he leapt on top of me, and eventually wrestled me to my feet. "Eew, you're stinky, too. You need a shower," he mumbled, as he planted little kisses on my neck and shoulders, his arms wrapped tight around me.
I leaned my head back against his shoulder and sighed. "You know, you'll have to let go of me for that to happen, Dean."
"Well, then you'll just have to wait a little longer, won't you, Cecil?"
He kept kissing me, and I just shut my eyes and stood there, letting all those timeless memories, like postcards from the edge of reality, fall down on me like raindrops, washing away everything else, leaving me feeling fresh, scrubbed clean, and with a long, empty road ahead of me—of us—that for the first time in my life, left me with a feeling of hope, and not of resignation or dread.
I opened my eyes, and caught sight of something white hanging from one of the nails that held my Jim Morrison poster to the wall.
"Hey, Portman? I think I found your underwear."
I could not get any of the stars or squiggles that represent flashbacks or time lapses, to work, hence the %&%&%& thing. Sorry.
The next chapter is not going to be another memory montage, but the "part I" does mean that we'll be seeing a Portman-version of this sort of thing before the story wraps. I just wanted to show the passing of time, so the stuff that happens next won't seem so abrupt. Okay, and because I love writing happy little drunken bash-love scenes, and Johnny scenes. I thought this chapter would see some Bash Brother action, but it looks like that'll have to wait till next time. I've been sitting at this computer for way too long already, so let's get down to review-responses, shall we?
Cards: I've gotten the exact same response from people over my 'chasing the dragon' t-shirt. That's one of the reasons I like the phrase so much: it sounds magical. And slipping something like that past school admin always feels good. In high school, my friends and I used to eat pot-brownies in Socials class, right in front of the teacher. I loved that.
NYgoldfish: Yeah, I think I combine angst with extreme fluff in a way not many others do; and I just love hearing you say my fic makes you feel. You're making ME feel all fluffy... And if it's enough to cheer you up after your Islanders lose... what better compliment could I receive? You know, my Grandma's brother, Bob Bourne, used to play for the Islanders, a defenseman, won two Cups with them, back-to-back, I think. Do you know what year that was?
Pixie13: Yeah, I know updates have been few and far between; sorry about that, dear. I've been hearing lots of not-so-good stuff about this antiIRONY, but have not received a flame thus far; strange, since I think it's slash she goes after. Take no note of her; why put store in someone with a name like that? I LOVE irony! Plus, you may think this odd, but I'd sort of like to get a flame, just one. I've never gotten one before, and I think most fanfic writers, especially slash ones, have.
Checkmate: Ooh, the Count of Monte Cristo! I love that book, and I remember that line, too. And another Canuck? Excellent! Here's hoping Calgary comes out on top this year, eh?
Lisa14: Fantastic as usual, huh? I'm blushing! And I'm happy you think I get inside their heads; the problem is, now that I'm there, will I ever be able to get out?
Schiz: Your Wolfie-pal misses you, and wants to hear from you. We'll clear a time for a phone call, okay? You'll have to post your new number to our address book! You DO have a phone, right? Perhaps a mustard-shit yellow one?
hugglesbunny: Yes, she lives, lycanthrope lives. However, she is now one of the living dead, doomed to walk the earth in eternal hunger, ever on the lookout for the one thing that can satisfy her palate: human brains...
Two-min-for-slashing: I've already addressed most of the points in your lovely review, and I just got your email today, so I will reply when I find the time. I must, however, publicly acknowledge my respect for your Elden- worship. I hope you enjoy this.
-T-: I know you emailed me with a review once, and left a different name as well, but I can't for the life of me remember what it was. For some reason, I keep thinking Jessica Simpson, but she's a singer, isn't she? Anyway, great that you liked the 10 min later bit; I did, too, so it just goes to show how differently things affect different people.