Accidental Therapy – Part One
I talked him into it, but for all of the wrong reasons.
Sure, I thought it might help him – and in more ways than just one. But I'd be lying if I said that had been my primary reason for getting him to agree to the interview.
I had no problem with doing interviews. The more, the better. It was all about being relatable and marketable – the better the public thought they knew me, the more of me they wanted. Basically, I manipulated the general public for my own personal gains. Did I feel bad about it? No. It was the name of the game. Besides, people wanted their heroes, and they wanted them to feel like one of their own. I was just giving the people what they wanted.
The thing was, I wasn't the only thing they wanted. They wanted the other Animorphs, too. I gave them that look – the insider's perspective on Jake, Cassie, Rachel, Tobias, and Ax. Mostly Jake, though. I might have been a hero, but he was the hero. The brave boy who'd given literally everything he had and was to save everyone else. And for a while, my insights were enough to appease the masses.
It wasn't enough anymore. They'd gotten tired of hearing about Jake. Now they wanted to hear from him. And by being so damn lovable and relatable, I'd shot myself in the foot. The people expected me to use my connections to Jake to get what they wanted. And I'd given in – I had to. The thing about people getting what they want is that, sooner or later, they take it for granted. They assume you'll do for them what no one else can or will.
It had taken me a long time to get Jake to agree to do what I – they – wanted. He'd told me several times that he didn't have anything left to give, and every time he said it, it was like a shot to the heart. I knew he wasn't just saying it. The boy – young man, really – just didn't have anything left. Ordering Rachel to kill Tom had broken him beyond fixing.
When I asked him to appear on the least-threatening show possible, I thought I'd been lobbing him a softball. Stephen Colbert was a comedian, not a hard-hitting political analyst. He wouldn't ask the questions Jake was afraid of. I thought my buddy Jake could at least fake being okay through an interview with Stephen. And, in the end, even though he didn't have anything left, he found a way to give me what I wanted. He found the strength to put himself in the public eye – for me.
The day before we were scheduled to appear, I'd discovered that Jake didn't even own a suit. The one he'd worn for both Rachel and Tom's memorial services had been a rental. So I picked him up in my Aston Martin and brought him downtown to Panoyan, where my tailor had gotten him set up with his own custom-fit Brioni suit. $7,600 out of my own pocket – and worth every penny. Jake had grudgingly admitted he looked good in it, turning in front of the mirrors.
"This is pretty nice," he said, studying the contours of the custom jacket. "Very Bond."
I held up three ties – red, blue, and gray. They would all go with the jacket. "Which one do you like?"
"Whichever is cheapest. I'm not a bazillionaire like you," he said promptly, and I rolled my eyes and reminded him this was my treat. Not to mention, all three were $500 apiece.
He looked uncomfortable. "Yeah. I appreciate the sentiment, but I can afford my own suit." And he could, too. Jake received a government check every month as "retroactive payment for past services rendered to government and country." It was easily enough to live on, especially given his no-frills lifestyle.
I didn't want him thinking about price, though. If he found out how much I was paying for his clothing, he was likely to realize what a big deal the interview was, get cold feet, and say to forget the whole thing. "Stop it right now," I told him, trying to sound annoyed and menacing so he wouldn't bring it up again. "Getting your ass on the 'Report' is going to do wonders for my career. This suit isn't a gift, it's an investment in my own future. So shut up and tell me which tie you want to wear."
He had that look of pained concentration on his face he wore all the time now…but when I talked to him like that, it was like slipping him back in time a few years, to the way things used to be. A smile broke out, and he actually chuckled. "Okay, okay! Gray tie."
With the suit discreetly charged to my store credit account, we got back into the car and I started home. To my home. Jake noticed when I passed the exit that would take us back to his house. "Are we not done, yet? What gives?"
This part was tricky. I had resolved not to let him out of my sight until after the interview was over – I didn't want him having too much time to think. If he was allowed to wallow in his own mind, he was likely to chicken out and disappear before the show. So I did what I do best – I manipulated him. "Dude…I don't know. It's just, I've got this big old house to myself, and I'm always wishing I had somebody to hang out with. I figure since we're already kicking it, you might as well sleep over. Like old times, you know? It'll save me the trouble of picking you up in the morning for the flight out." I tried to inject just the right amount of hopefulness into my voice.
He didn't totally buy it, but it worked, anyway. "You're such a spin doctor," he accused me, but good-naturedly. "Fine. I'll do it."
I was a little more genuine as we passed the guard at the gate to my private neighborhood. "Seriously, I think it'll be cool. We haven't really hung out for a long time."
His eyes got that over-the-hills-and-far-away look as he stared at the passing mansions through his window. "I know. Sorry. I haven't been a very good friend, lately."
"Hey, none of that. I've been busy, too, you know. I don't want to hang out with you when you're all depressed." I regretted the words as soon as they were out of my mouth.
"I'm not depressed," he argued. "I'm just…me. This is how I am, now. Back when we were in the fight, I didn't have time to think about everything. Now I do. It's just the way it is."
"Sure, I know," I said, placating, trying to make peace. I pulled the car into the long driveway that led to my home. I felt the urge to make an excuse, or something. As to why I was able to function just fine, and Jake was barely hanging on. "I get down about everything too, sometimes. Staying busy helps keep my mind off of it. You should try it."
"I stay busy," he said as he climbed out of the car. "I've got my own place to take care of, and I don't have an army of servants to help," he nodded pointedly as my huge oak front door opened, and my butler/assistant, Alvin, came down the front step to pull the Aston Martin into the garage with my other assorted cars. I handed him the key as Jake continued. "I still do the lawn at my parents' place, too. And I have dinner with them almost every night."
I should have let it drop, but that just isn't my style. Bullheadedly, I pressed him as we entered my house. "Sure, okay. But once the grass is cut and you're not playing Mr. Fixit, what do you do all day?"
He flushed with embarrassment for a second. "Whatever I feel like. Watch some TV. Hang out with Homer." He seemed to grasp onto something that gave him a little of his edge back. He looked at me slyly. "You might think I'm being useless, but I still help out where I can. I volunteer for a website that helps kids in crisis. You know, pregnant teenagers and kids that are thinking about suicide, stuff like that. I'm just an anonymous guy they can talk to on the computer, or sometimes I even call them."
"That's…depressing," I said before I could stop myself. "Well, I'm not saying it's not good that you like to help people, Jake. But is spending your time talking to suicidal goth kids really what's best for you?"
He gave me a withering look before turning to dig in my refrigerator. "I like to help people," he insisted stubbornly. "It makes me feel…I don't know. Useful, I guess." He turned the tables on me as he cracked open a can of root beer. "What do you do that's so special? All I ever see on TV is you just telling jokes and fooling around with celebrities and whatnot. Do you ever help people out?"
I could feel this turning into an argument, but I couldn't help but to take the bait. "Yeah, I help people," I said sarcastically. "I sacrificed my childhood to save the human race from the Yeerks. I think I'm entitled to a little "me" time, now."
"Fair enough," he said. "I just don't want you busting my chops for wanting to do a little more with my time."
"A little more?" I echoed, incredulously. "Jake, you don't owe anybody anything. I don't know where you got this complex about always having to be useful, but let me tell you something. It's nice to not have to worry about other people, for a change. It's rewarding to finally do something for yourself, to be selfish. Just a little." I waved my hands helplessly. "People would buck up if they saw you buck up. By going on this show tomorrow and letting everyone see that you're healing, that you're recovering, you'll be doing more for the world than you could ever do on your anonymous crisis website."
He just looked at me over the top of his can of soda. I relented, realizing I was letting my emotions run away with me. "Okay, okay. So you like to help people – that's cool. I just worry about you. Sorry."
He just nodded. "No big deal. And I already agreed to do this show with you. You don't have to talk me into it, anymore."
I decided it was time to change the subject. "So, anyway. What do you feel like doing?" I was thinking along the lines of going to a club or a restaurant or something – it was still early afternoon, but I don't normally have down time. I'd budgeted this day specifically to keep Jake distracted.
He shrugged, crushed his empty can, and tossed it into the trash. "We still have some sun. Want to go out back and throw a football around or something?"
The suggestion surprised me with its youthfulness. When was the last time I'd considered doing something simply for the fun of it? I couldn't really remember, and that bothered me. And for all my talk of being healthy and moving on, it kind of bugged me that Jake – doomy, gloomy Jake – had been the one to suggest a game of pigskin. "Uh, yeah, sounds good." I went into my garage – the one where I stored my crap, not the one for my cars – and searched for a football. All I could find was a tennis ball, but at least it was something. Jake didn't seem to care as we spread apart across my enormous back lawn, which was better manicured than a professional football field. We stopped about thirty yards apart and tossed the ball back and forth. We had to talk loud, but we carried on a semi-normal conversation as we played catch.
I noticed he kept shooting glances at my pool. It was awesome; I'd designed it to make an impact. I didn't go with the traditional square or rounded design. It was roughly shaped like a peanut in its shell, so it would look more like a natural body of water. Where the diving board would go, I put in a big, rock wall waterfall. Palm trees and ferns surrounded the whole thing. When you were actually in the pool, it looked like you were in a lagoon, not the back yard of a mansion.
I caught a frozen rope Jake sidearmed at me with one hand and grinned; I might have gotten a little sluggish since we'd beaten the Yeerks, but I still had battle reflexes. "Want to go for a swim?"
I could tell he'd been hoping I'd ask. "Sure. That's a pretty cool pool."
I motioned for him to follow me into the poolhouse, flipping him the tennis ball. "Thanks. I had it designed by Alan Jaquoi."
"Like I know who that is."
"He's just a famous architect who specializes in water features. Most people's pools are their little private getaway – I just wanted mine to be more of a getaway than the norm."
He eyed the thick vegetation surrounding it as we went into the poolhouse, which was bigger than his home. "How do you get the water to steam like that?"
"The water is kept at eighty-one degrees. I guess it's a little cooler than that outside right now. Pretty cool effect, huh?"
I pointed him toward the poolhouse's guest bedroom. "Check the dresser in there – Alvin keeps it stocked with swimsuits. Your size should be in the second drawer."
Jake hesitated, like he wanted to comment on this display of wealth, but just shook his head and disappeared into the room. I went into my room, picked out my favorite blue board shorts, and tossed them on. Jake was already waiting at the open door.
We jumped into the salt water pool. The liquid was on the verge of uncomfortably hot, like it always was when I first got in; I knew from experience that as the sun set and the air cooled, the water would go from feeling warm to perfect. Jake swam into the deep end and treaded, looking down. "How deep is this? I can't even see the bottom."
I laughed. "It's only about sixteen feet at the deepest part. The bottom is painted special to make it look like it doesn't have a bottom. Neat, huh?"
Jake's answer was to grab a deep breath and turn for the bottom. I watched him descend with his right arm stretched out in front of him, to keep his face from hitting the nearly invisible bottom. He finally bumped into it and turned around to come back to the surface. When he broke the water, he grinned and flipped his wet hair out of his eyes. "That is a really awesome effect – I couldn't see the bottom until I was almost right on top of it."
He bobbed his way to the "sand bar," the middle of the pool where the bottom rose up to almost touch the surface, and sat down on it. The water lapped against his chest as he leaned back on his hands and closed his eyes. "Damn. This is pretty cool. Think I'm going to have to come back and use this more often."
I floated over to him and sat, too. The water that was level with his chest came up to my chin, almost. "Anytime, Big Jake. You know that. My house is your house."
The strangest expression crossed his face. I saw his Adam's apple bob up and down like it was dancing a jig, but when he spoke, his voice sounded normal. "Thanks. I doubt you know what that means to me."
"Whatever's changed, we haven't," I said seriously. "You're my best bud, and you always will be. It'd be nice if you'd stop forgetting that."
"I know that. It's just…I know I'm not a blast to be around, these days. I guess I don't like to impose, especially on people I like."
"You're always welcome to come over and bum me out. Even if I'm not here, just come on over and hang out, if you need to get away. I already had a key made for you; I'll remember to get it before we leave tomorrow."
His Adam's apple started dancing again, and I got uncomfortable. Luckily, Alvin chose to interrupt our mushy moment. His voice crackled over one of the speakers hidden by plants on the side of the pool.
"Mr. Marco? Would you and Mr. Jake like to enjoy a refreshment?"
I grinned, happy for another chance to show off. "Impeccable timing, my man. I'd love a drink. Make it strong and tropical – surprise me." I looked at Jake expectantly, letting him know it was his turn to place his order.
He thought for a minute. "Gin, please."
"Gin?" I asked, surprised. Of course I had it in stock, but it was nasty. Tasted like cotton and pine, to me.
"Gin, and..?" Alvin prompted.
"Neat. Just gin."
I could almost see Alvin shrugging as he went off to fill our order. I gave Jake a questioning look. "Since when do you like gin? What is it, 1901?"
"It was Grampa G's drink," he said, as if that explained everything. We were quiet until Alvin appeared at the side of the pool. Jake started to swim over to get his drink, but I touched his arm to stop him. Alvin put the tray on a specially-designed float and sent it our way with a solid push. Jake grinned as it drifted in front of us and took his glass of gin off of it. I grabbed my glass and sniffed it – rum and pineapple, smelled like. The ice tinkled in the crystal as I took a swig.
"Delicious," I closed my eyes. "Thanks, Alvin."
"Sir," he bowed slightly and made himself scarce.
Jake's expression didn't change as he took a swallow of his gin, and I was disappointed. I'd expected him to at least grimace at the strong taste of the aged liquor. "How is it?" I asked skeptically.
"Smooth. Really smooth. I usually drink Tanqueray, and this puts that to shame. What brand is this? I'm going to have to get some for my house."
I laughed hard and long, because of course he'd picked the most expensive drink I had in my house, and of course he'd want some for himself. It was ironic because I knew he disapproved of my opulent lifestyle, even if he wouldn't come right out and say it. "It's called Revelation, and I don't think you're going to be able to run to the package store and pick it up. It was a gift from Prince Harry."
"A gift from who?"
"Prince Harry. Are you really surprised that I know him?" He thought about it before shaking his head. "They only made five bottles of the stuff. Almost a quarter million per bottle, I've been told."
Jake thought I was putting him on. "Now you're just full of crap. No liquor in the world is worth that."
"Well, if you want to be a cheapskate, I could get you some Nolet's reserve. I think that stuff goes for a modest $700 per bottle, when you can find it."
He looked disgruntled, but he took a swallow of his drink with a new reverence. "I'll stick to Tanqueray. This is good, though. Really good."
We sipped our drinks in silence for a while, just enjoying the peace of the setting and each other's company. The only comment I made was that at least he would have some color on 'The Colbert Report' tomorrow – the sun was already darkening his skin. It made me wonder if he spent as much time outside doing chores like lawn care as he'd claimed.
We stayed out long enough to have a second and third drink – Jake had requested a switch to his usual brand – and the temperate water, cocktails, and hang-out session had the both of us feeling loose. I guess that's why he was able to get out some of the things he'd clearly been wondering about.
The first question he asked didn't surprise me. In fact, the only thing that surprised me about it was how long it had taken him to ask it. "So, you still keep in touch with Cassie, right? How is she?"
"She's good, man. You know she's keeping busy – they gave her that new position in the President's cabinet as Minister of Liaison to Resident Aliens. In other words, she's the Hork-bajirs' rights advocate. She takes that job seriously – last I heard, she was pushing for them to get both popular and electoral votes, just like American citizens."
Jake laughed; he sounded both proud and sad. "That's Cassie."
I grinned. "Yeah. She's also raised billions for worldwide conservation efforts, like the rainforests and threatened species. She makes me push that World Wildlife Fund stuff every chance I get." I rolled my eyes good-naturedly, as if to say, 'what are you gonna do?' "The girl is just a straight-up hippy/ecology nut/activist. She loves it all. I don't even think she sleeps, anymore."
Jake just stared into his glass while I talked. "That's good. I'm glad she's happy. Is she still with that guy?"
I was hoping he wouldn't ask me about that. "Yeah, I think so. She was the last time I heard from her, anyway. Ronnie seems like a good guy. Kind of boring, but stable. I think he keeps her grounded."
Jake didn't seem jealous or mad or anything. "That's good, too. I want her to be happy," he said again.
It bothered me to see him sanguine about the idea of Cassie being with someone else. "I'm not sure it would last if you tried to get in touch with her," I said quietly. "Sometimes I feel like he's just a bookmark; somebody to hold your place until you get back."
"I'm here. I never went anywhere," he said, just as quietly.
"You know what I mean." I gave him a minute to think. "So, do you think you'll ever do it? Talk to Cassie about the two of you, I mean."
He shook his head. "I don't think so. She's happy. You said it yourself – Ronnie is stable. He's good for her. I don't even like being around myself much anymore. I wouldn't want to bring her down."
"That's her choice, not yours," I pointed out. "Who are you to tell her who she wants to be with?" He didn't answer. "I'm just saying, think about it. Let her know that you're okay. Let her know that you're available. I don't like playing the man in the middle between the two of you. I think you should talk. The way you left things was…not good."
He polished off his third drink and turned the cut crystal glass in his hand, watching the dying sun's rays bounce off of it. "No. It's better this way. She's happy, and I don't want to make her doubt herself and what she's doing."
I started to argue, but then I kept my mouth shut. It was between Jake and Cassie. None of my business. I'd already told him my advice, anyway; it was on him whether he wanted to act on it or not. "Whatever you say, man. I guess if you can look at it like that, then you're in a healthier place than I thought."
"Yeah." He held up his hand to show me his pruney fingers. "I think I'm ready to get out."
I stood up and waded to the side of the pool with him willingly enough. "What do you want to do tonight? I was thinking we could go out for dinner and a drink – what do you say?"
He considered it for a short moment before shaking his head. "I think I just want to be a shut in, tonight. I'm sure you've got all sorts of video games – want to try your skills out against me? We could order a pizza or some Chinese take out or something."
As he painted the picture, suddenly I wanted to do that a lot more than I wanted to sit in some VIP section at a swanky restaurant. Jake had a way of turning me into a fifteen year old again, and I liked that. "You're on. I've got the latest systems and my own movie theatre to play the games in. I'll have Alvin order us a feast – we can pig out and I can trash you at whatever game you want."
He grinned, and it was one of the rare, genuine smiles he almost never wore anymore. "Cool." He took his shower in the poolhouse while I asked Alvin to pick up a variety of carry-out food, then I took my own shower.
Instead of playing games in my theatre, Jake wanted to hook up my Xbox in my living room. He said it helped him to feel normal if we weren't in a private home movie theatre. So we lounged around for the rest of the night, eating pizza and Chinese and drinking beer like normal guys. After he got sick of getting killed by me at every video game imaginable, we put on a movie and zoned out. I knew I was almost in a coma from the alcohol and ridiculous amount of food, so I figured he was, too. As I felt my eyelids fight me to stay closed, Jake spoke drowsily from the other couch.
"Marco? Thanks. I needed this."
I tried to smile, but I felt too tired. "Me too. We should make this a weekly thing."
As I drifted off to sleep, I heard him start snoring. Before sixty seconds had passed, I was snoring right along with him.
A/N – The second part of this will be up soon – it's going to be the actual Colbert Report interview that Jake and Marco do together. I'll get it up ASAP, and as always, I'd love to hear your thoughts on how this is going, so far. Thank you. :D