Part Six: Hospital Nightmares
It felt good to walk around. You know, the sort of walking around that didn't require a nurse or Gene or someone who was being paid to look after Fred Luo like the invalid he was. It felt good to just say, 'Hey, I have to take a piss,' and, without telling anyone else, go to the God damn bathroom on your God damn own. Besides, pissing with people there was embarrassing.
Fred Luo had decided that for a while he was totally fucking through with embarrassment. In fact, if he could wing it, he was pretty sure he would be through with embarrassment forever. Not that he was thoroughly confident in his ability to wing it; but he was damn well going to try. He and embarrassment had been for far too long far too chummy. Fred Luo had also decided, for the record, to be far pickier about who he was or wasn't chummy with.
It wasn't that he'd stopped loving Gene.
It wasn't that he'd stopped dreaming about Gene.
It wasn't that he'd stopped thinking about Gene twenty-four-fucking-seven.
You just didn't turn emotional switches on and off like that; you couldn't do it, even if you wanted to really fucking badly. No, Fred would have to wait, would have to be realistic, would have to act like a mentally and emotionally stable human being. That was going to be hard, he realized, but he was going to do it. There were plenty more fish in the sea, or something like that. Anyway, it was a famous saying. Anyway, Fred had to get the fuck over it. Anyway, Fred had to pretend to get the fuck over it.
And Gene hadn't come back yet, which was a good sign, Fred told himself. It was a good sign because if Gene could just stay away for a little while then Fred could get over it. Fred had to get over it. Fred had to regain this neutral ground so he could pretend to get over it.
Baby steps, Fred told himself, baby steps. That was how alcoholics did it, or something.
"Hi," Fred said to the bathroom mirror. "My name is Fred Luo, and I'm an idiot." It didn't quite have the ring to it as 'alcoholic' would have had but it was going to do.
"Hi," Fred said again, looking at his pinched, pale face. "For all my life I think I've been an idiot. Even when I was a baby. Shit, I was an idiot then." He laughed a little. His reflection laughed back.
That could have been more comforting, he looked like the damn undead.
"Boo," he said to his reflection. "You've let yourself go to hell, certainly. My, my, the cheeks need a little pinching." He dropped his hands to the sides of the sink and he surveyed his face from all angles that he could, frowning at last.
"You are certainly a ladykiller," he told himself, "but that never got you anywhere you preferred to be, did it."
There was a knock on the bathroom door.
"Would you please go away?" Fred said to whoever the hell it was. "Fred Luo is having an intimate conversation with himself. He would prefer it if you didn't interrupt him. Thank you. Have a nice day." But that had broken the train of his thought, anyway. Fred sighed.
"Actually," Gene said, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, "I don't have to come in. You could come out."
"Or," Fred said, very evenly - my, look how simple and terrible he looked when faced with Gene's voice - while his knuckles got white with tension, "you could just go, and I wouldn't have to call security."
"Don't do this, Fred."
"You know, I think I will."
"Fuck, Fred, you just gotta listen to me for a minute. A goddamn minute of your time."
"Uhm, let me think about it. Hm. No." Fred bowed his head.
"I'll break the door down, Fred."
"Oh, my, how very manly of you. I do hope you get splinters."
"I'm not fuckin' kidding, Fred."
"The door isn't fucking locked, anyway!" There was the edge of the hysterical to Fred's voice, not very well concealed. It was obvious Gene could detect it. The doorknob turned. "I'm not fucking kidding either, Gene, I don't want you coming in here!"
"I don't care," Gene replied, roughly, as he pushed the door open. Fred whirled around to face him.
"No," he returned coldly, "you wouldn't. Care, that is."
"I brought you flowers," Gene said. His voice was careful. "I put 'em in that vase on the table, next to the bed."
"Why, Gene," Fred said, clasping his hands before him; the bitterness in his voice was like daggers, or ice, "how very kind of you! I do wonder if you put a little card in with them? Are they roses? I do so love roses, you know!"
"Don't get this way."
"What way? Oh, you mean this way; I'm sorry, I'm a bit highstrung - but listen to me, rambling on and on about myself. Shall I call the nurse up? We could have a spot of afternoon tea and perhaps some cake and I could read the note with your flowers and everything can be peachy. Would you like that? Would that make you happy?"
"Fred, you're getting' fucking crazy on me."
"Gene, one of these days, you're going to figure out how to talk to people like they're human beings and I will drop dead from the fucking shock of it!" Fred's blue eyes blazed and Gene blanched at the sight of them.
"Shit," he said, low, almost sobered.
"Yes," Fred snapped, "quite."
"I've been thinkin'."
"What a novel concept!"
"Let me talk for a second; just let me talk for a second!"
"Go right ahead. I'm certainly not leaping forward to engage your mouth in better activities."
"I've been thinkin'," Gene continued bravely, frowning a little, "about what you said."
"What, you mean the part where I made a fool of myself," Fred asked, somewhat cheerfully, "or the one where I made a big fool of myself? Or - and this is my favorite - the one where I made an even bigger fool of myself? Do tell, Gene. Which one is it?" Gene ignored that, and went on.
"Christ, Fred, I brought fuckin' flowers, I don't do that shit for anyone."
"And I am deeply touched, Gene. I forgive you all your trespasses." Fred sank down to sit on the closed toilet, feeling very ridiculous.
"I thought it was a joke, Fred."
"I am a joke, Gene."
"That isn't it."
"It damn well is it, Gene. You didn't think it was a joke but you turned it into one for whatever game of machismo you sought to satisfy within yourself; you turned it into a joke because damned if I was strong enough to fight back or worthy enough of anything other than mockery." Fred lifted defiant eyes to Gene's face. "Deny that, and you can be a liar, as well as a bastard."
"I'm not going to deny it."
"Fuck you," Fred said. "Good."
"I'm not here because I think I can make everything better."
"Screw you, you can't."
"I'm here because you deserve far better than what I've done."
"All I wanted," Fred said softly, helplessly, "was kindness from you, Gene. I just wanted you to like me because I knew you weren't going to love me."
"You're pretty, Fred."
"All I wanted was maybe a smile or a kind touch or a-what?"
"You're really fuckin' pretty, Fred. You've got really fuckin' nice eyes."
"And you have the mouth of a poet, Gene."
"Well, at least I'm serious." Gene ran his fingers through his hair. "You come on so damn strong, Fred, you're fuckin' terrifying. But you never stopped to think about that, now did you? Shit, Fred, I don't fuck guys but I think you're fuckin' pretty, what the hell was I supposed to do with that?"
"I don't know!" Fred's voice rose to echo over the bathroom tiles. "Tell me, maybe?"
"Don't get worked up like that, you're gonna hurt yourself."
"Fuck you, Gene! Fuck you, and fuck you!"
"You're normally much more eloquent than that, Fred."
"Fuck you, you can't tell me what to do!"
"You don't have any fucking power over me, Gene Starwind. You son of a bitch!"
"Leave my fuckin' mother out of it."
"My apologies to your fucking mother!"
"Anyway," Gene said, looking down for a moment, "I just thought you should know. Before you fuckin' went off thinking I'm some sort of all-around-the-board asshole. Thought you should know I'm only a mostly-around-the-board asshole." Gene shrugged a little. "Yeah. Okay."
"I knew you'd say that."
"Get out, Gene."
"But I wasn't fuckin' with you, just now. I mean, I meant it. I think you're fuckin' nice to look out."
"And I fucking love you," Fred hissed, "don't play games with me." Another shrug from Gene's part. "Don't trivialize me. Get out. You hurt me. You've hurt me and you hurt me and you will always hurt me, get the hell out of my-out of my fucking bathroom!"
"If you ever-"
"I won't," Fred snapped. "Out."
"Right," Gene said, resigned. "See ya."
"You won't," Fred stated.
"Okay," Gene said.
"Good fucking bye."
Gene turned and left, and Fred buried his head in his hands. The bathroom was cold and his hands were cold and his feet were cold. All he wanted to do was go home, all he wanted was his own bed. All he wanted was a world that didn't have shit to do with Gene Starwind.
Why was it, he wanted to know, that every dream he had eventually turned into some hideous nightmare?