1

People are still afraid to merge in L.A. I haven't heard that phrase since the last time Blair said it to me on that drive home from LAX, but I can still hear her saying it in my ear with the same dull tone. It's summer now, and I'm back in L.A., but for only a month. Julian sits across from me, drunk and stoned, in a pretty nice restaurant across from Tower Records. I can see he's not doing any better since I last saw him, but at least I was finally able to contact him without trouble. He's drinking his third martini which he had ordered with a fake ID. He drinks it too fast and I'm about to tell him to stop, but I don't.

"Are you still prostituting for Finn?" I ask him.

"What do you care?" He replies.

"I don't know."

"Nobody knows what they care for anymore, you know?" He says, slurring every other word.

"Do you?"

After hesitating for a moment he just says, "I don't know." He takes another sip of the martini and his eyes water up.

The cheese pizza I ordered arrives, the pretty waitress smiling at me and her face turning red as she sets it down on the table. I smile back, barely.

"You're a fucking sleaze, Clay," Julian snaps at me as the waitress walks away while looking back at me. She gives me a wink which I don't return.

"I'm not the one prostituting myself, Julian." I take a sip of the Coke I ordered earlier, which is now semi-flat. I take out my Wayfarers and put them on. Julian glares at me angrily and his face contorts from intoxication and he mumbles something like, "Fuckhead," but I ignore it.

"Are you still dealing heroin?" I ask.

"What do you think?"

"Nevermind." I take another sip of the Coke.

I begin eating a slice of the pizza and Julian just leans over the table, rubbing the top of his head and gripping at his hair. I offer him a piece, but he swats it away when I hold it up to him. I eat in silence for a moment.

"Are you still seeing Blair?" Julian says.

"No. We agreed... not to," I continue eating the slice of pizza.

"Who brought you home from the airport?"

"My mom."

Julian stays quiet and just keeps rubbing the top of his head with tears slowly running down his face and dripping off his chin. He takes another sip of the martini while sobbing. I just sit in silence, finishing my second piece of the pizza. I wind up paying the bill with only a fourth of the pizza finished and drive Julian home.

"You should stop this, Julian," I say, watching the headlights of the cars passing me.

"Stop what?" He snaps.

"Stop all of it."

"You haven't." He starts laughing and I ignore it. I drive without speaking to him and when we get to his house his parents aren't home. They probably wouldn't really care anyway. He stumbles out of the car and I wind up helping hold him up as we walk to the door. I tell him I'll see him tomorrow, sort of in the form of a question, and he just nods uncertainly and shuts the front door of the house.

When I get home, my mother's car is parked in the driveway with another man's car, though it looks different from the one I saw the last time I was here. When I step into the house, the lights are all off except for one dim yellow one in the upstairs hallway. When I get upstairs I can hear mattress springs squeaking and heavy male breathing from inside my mother's bedroom, but I just go into my room and shut the door. I put a Fixx cassette into my stereo and fast forward to "Reach the Beach" as I sit on my bed and stare at the Elvis Costello poster on the wall, his amusing smile still standing.