Dude, I Want What You Got

I'm thinkin' it had to be, like, noon or something when me and Skinny Pete finally bailed out of Jesse's place. He said we could crash over there, and that was cool and all, but truth be told, after three days of nonstop jams, lightin' up, and beer and pizza for breakfast, the Badger's gotta regroup in his own burrow, y'know?

So, I get back to my pad. Seems kinda small now, next to all that mad space I just came from. Right as I open the door, there's my cat Sneakers there to meet me, rubbing all up around my pant leg and everything. Sure, dogs get all the cred, but you can always count on a cat to loyally wait for—

Oh, wait, I remember now, I was supposed to feed him when I got home. That must be why he's meowing that loud.

He about trips me when I head into the kitchen and get the cat food. I shake the box. Not much left in there.

"There ya go, buddy."

Sneakers basically dive-bombs into the cat bowl when I empty out the Meow Mix package. Guess I'll have to buy some more tomorrow. All I wanna do now is crash.

My room is still decked out with all the same posters I've had since high school. The one with the weed plants and those circles that look like they're spinning is still pretty rad. Right next to that is a limited edition Twaughthammer poster. …Well, actually, it's more like just our logo and a drawing of us in pencil on a piece of regular paper. I bet it'll be worth a stack once we hit the big time, though.

I shuffle through all the clothes and Monster Energy cans all over the floor and climb into bed. Don't even bother taking my shoes off, I'm so wasted when I close my eyes.

Damn, Jesse sure knows how to throw a wicked party.

)***(

Now the clock is saying 4:00 when I open my eyes. I'm not really sure if it's the same day or the next morning. Or, maybe it's the next afternoon? Wouldn't be the first time I spent a whole day passed out like that.

Opening the blinds reveals that it's definitely daytime outside. My stomach is growling, so I figure no matter what day it is, it's time to hit the 7-Eleven.

I'm kinda groggy, though. Okay, first a toke, then 7-Eleven.

I burn one in my room, then Sneakers jumps in my lap to rub his head against my hand. I start petting him, and he tries to chew on my hand. Right…food again.

There's no Meow Mix left, so I look around the kitchen for something else I can give him. There's a box of Lucky Charms on top of the fridge. Well, you pick the marshmallows out, and the cereal part kinda looks like cat food. So, I pour a bowl, munching on the candy parts as I go.

"Hearts, stars and horseshoes, clovers and blue moons! Pots of gold and rainbows, and the red balloons!" I chant to myself as I fill the bowl with Lucky Charms, minus marshmallows. Then I pour in some milk. Cats like milk. I set it on the kitchen floor. Sneakers is still sniffing at it when I head out.

On the way to the 7-11, I notice for the first time since getting home that my wallet is kinda light. Less than $100 left. I guess I oughtta start looking for another job. The realtor canned me after I totally got screwed over by that cop who swore he wasn't a cop. Even when I tried to get my mascot gig back after the whole thing blew over, they'd already given it away to some dude with a Bachelor's Degree. How was I supposed to compete with that?

I was making some mucho dinero working for Jesse, selling that awesomely dope Blue Sky he made with Heisenberg. Course, he seemed pretty bugged out when me and Skinny Pete decided not to deal with those folks at NA, so that didn't exactly work out. I'm not that guy who lets a bro down or anything, but it just didn't feel very sporting. Like, selling little flight goggles to a bird with broken wings.

At the 7-11, I grab a bag of cat food, then I load up on Cheetos, Combos (gone too soon, brother), and Ramen noodles. That ought to tide me over until I get a steady cash flow coming in again. I drop all the bags off at home—not counting the Cheetos I ate on the way—then I spend the last hour or so of daylight patrolling the neighborhood for "Help Wanted" signs. Doesn't seem to be much out there. This kinda sucks.

Guess I'll just wait for tomorrow's paper, then see what's listed. Until then, I chill at home and watch some Animal Planet. There's a rerun of Meerkat Manor on. Those little guys are so cute.

I think about Jesse, and how it'd be so righteous to have what he has. Instead of sitting in a one-bedroom apartment and munching on snacks from the nearest gas station, he's buying whole, supersize pizzas for his guests over at that huge house of his. And instead of circling job ads in the paper, he's raking in the dough from that big, fancy lab job of his. That's gotta be a sweet deal.

)***(

Over the next week or so, my job search goes pretty much nowhere. Every place I hit, they make you have a driver's license or take a drug test. That puts me out of the running on both counts.

I start to feel a bit guilty for falling off the wagon and doing ice at the party. I was on Step 2 of the program, and Skinny Pete was on Step 5. I mean, that's real progress. We were on our way to bettering ourselves and shit.

There's an NA meeting at the church tonight. Maybe I ought to go. I mean, at least getting clean would make finding a job easier.

And who knows? Maybe she'll be there.

)***(

"So, I go to the pharmacy counter to fill my prescription," she tells the NA group. "And while the pharmacist is handing me the paper bag, I could barely believe him. He actually held onto the bag for a second after I reached for it, and he gave me this warning…no, this accusing glare."

There's a buncha people murmuring at Andrea sharing her story at the meeting. I sit across from her and give her the most unbelieving look I can. Oh no, that guy did not!

"I just wanted to say, 'Excuse me, don't you think it's possible I just need these pain pills for my wisdom teeth surgery?'" she goes on. "Just because I'm in recovery doesn't mean I'm going to be overcome with the urge to crush them up and snort them all."

I'm a little embarrassed when I realize I had laughed the loudest at this. Not like I can help it; Andrea Cantillo is funny. And pretty, too.

"I understand your frustration, Andrea. Nobody likes to be judged, especially when we all just want a chance to prove we are better than our past mistakes," the NA counselor dude says. "But just remember, it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. You need to be secure first with yourself."

"Yeah," I chime in. "Totally. Be true to yourself, and…everything…"

I watch her as she smiles, nods and drags that ripple-y black hair behind her ears.

"Just do it," that little angel dude on my shoulder is saying. "After this is over, just go up to her and be all like, 'Good evening, Miss Cantillo. My name is Brandon Mayhew. Would you care to join me for coffee? Or, you know, if you don't like coffee, there's always cocoa. Everyone digs cocoa.'"

Then, just like in the cartoons, the little devil guy pops up on my other shoulder. "Yeah, do that," the little red prick sneers. "Then watch her laugh at you, tell you to get lost, and then you'll look like a total 'tard to her every time you come back here."

"Why would she laugh? It's not like you don't have prospects," goes the angel dude. "You're a nice guy, you're…working on the job situation. You were in a music video that one time!"

"Did you forget about the time you saw Jesse leaving here with his arm around her?" says the devil guy.

Yeah, there was that, I realized. But, that was different; it was business. Jesse was just selling to her, showing me and Pete how it was done. Demonstrating his vast sales expertise, and such. But she's still here now, and the NA counselor dude said when we first came in that he hadn't seen Jesse in awhile.

So, that must mean she's free. No reason I couldn't talk to her.

I will, I decide.

When we let out, I catch up to Andrea on the sidewalk. "Oh, hey," I say as I stroll up beside her. Hands in pockets, I play it as cool as possible. Plus, it helps to hide the sweaty palms. "I'm Badg…B...Brandon."

"I know," she gives a friendly smile. "I've seen you here before, Brandon. How have you been?"

"Good, everything's been just…good."

She nods. "Um…glad to hear it."

Shit, shit, shit! What do I say now?

"So, I've been thinking. You seem pretty awesome and stuff. And I was wondering if, like, you might wanna, I dunno, get coffee sometime? I mean, doesn't have to be right now, if you got plans, but…you know what I'm trying to say. We could exchange digits, and stuff."

She presses her lips together in this thin line. "That's…that's very nice of you to ask, but I—"

"Or if you don't like coffee, you know there's always cocoa. Who doesn't dig cocoa, right?"

She forces a laugh. "Thank you. Thank you, that's very thoughtful. But, I'm kind of already seeing someone."

"…Oh." I get real interested in the sidewalk below me. Man, I must be blushing, 'coz it suddenly got real hot. "Sorry, I didn't know. Didn't mean to bother you."

"It's no problem, thanks anyway," she says. She reaches into her pocket and takes out her phone. "I should answer this message, but I'll see you at the next meeting."

I stop following her and watch her walk down the street.

Before she's gone, I could swear I hear her say on the phone, "Hey, Jesse. Where have you been? I miss you."

)***(

"Guess it's just you and me, Sneakers. Us against the world, little guy." I pet the gray and white cat while surfing channels at home a few days later.

This is what they call a major, major bummer. Man, who am I kidding? I got nothing. No job, no special lady, nada. It sure wasn't that big a surprise to hear Andrea was into Jesse. I mean, what girl wouldn't want to be with a dude that's basically this science genius, making Super Ice in a secret lab, like on Stargate or whatever? And rolling in cash, to boot.

What chance have I got against him?

That's when it hits me, and I sit straight up in my La-Z-Boy.

Me and Jesse, we go way back! We're homies; we got each other's backs. I shouldn't be thinking of him as, like, competition. He's the Obi-Wan to my Luke Skywalker. He's a role model—a mentor and whatnot. I mean, he started out small too, cooking his Chili P brand and selling it on the streets. But he climbed the ladder to get where he is now. Surely he'd help a brother out and share his secret.

I decide to give him a ring. It's been awhile since I talked to him, anyway. I find my phone on the floor by an empty Cheetos bag, and dial Jesse.

"Yo," he greets.

"Whassup, man?! Haven't talked to you in forever!" I start off.

"Yeah…" He sounds kinda distracted. "Yeah."

"Is this, like, a bad time? Because it's just been a drag over here, and, y'know, I was just wanting to check in, or whatever."

"Yeah, no, you're cool. I've just been busy as shit. Kinda been working with this new guy, riding around a lot, so…yeah…"

"You have time to, I dunno, get a burger or something? Catch up, and whatnot?" I ask.

"Um…" There's a pause. "Sure, that sounds good. Be right there to pick you up."

Either he just came down from some major high, or he's super bummed about something. Maybe he'll explain once we meet up.

)***(

Jesse's station wagon pulls up. I notice something drastically different about him.

"No way! You went skinhead on us!" I laugh as I get in the shotgun seat.

He touches the top of his shaved head. "It was just something a buncha guys were doing at the party after you and Skinny Pete bailed," he says. "You two shoulda stuck around."

"Why, so I could look like a powdered egg, too?" I joke.

He floors the gas.

At the nearest Jack In The Box, we talk over burgers and fries. About whether Master Chief or Commander Shepherd would win in a fight. About whether or not border control is just a big pyramid scheme. About getting Twaughthammer back together. We run out of stuff to talk about right around the same time we run out of fries.

"So, you and Andrea from NA, huh?" I finally say.

"Kind of. We're just seeing where it goes for now." Jesse swirls the last fry in a puddle of ketchup on his tray.

"Right on, brother. She's…she's cute."

He looks up. Oh, hell…this is how those "male dominance" fights get started on Animal Planet.

"…And lucky," I add quickly.

"Lucky?" he repeats. "Why?"

"I dunno, shit. You're making some serious coinage, doing what you do. You got everything figured out, man. Just sayin', lady like Andrea…she's lucky she can count on you."

He still kinda looks like might try and go all 'alpha male' on me any second. "You think I have everything figured out?" he finally asks.

"You kidding? You got that mansion all to yourself. Casa De Pinkman, dude! Plus you're, like, sitting on a Mount Everest of Benjamins. And you got a fine mocha señorita. Hell, I'd kill to have what you got!"

Did he just cringe a bit when I said the word "kill"?

"Me and Skinny Pete both, we're wicked jealous of you," I admit. Mostly me. "I was just thinking, maybe you might—"

"Trust me, Badge. I'm the last guy you should be jealous of." He stands up and takes his tray to the trash.

We don't talk about much else on the way back to my place.

"I'll be out of town for awhile. For work," he says while dropping me off. "Been real, dude." He claps my shoulder.

I wait a sec before getting out. I feel like there's something up he's not telling me. Call it intuition or whatever, I just think there's something more needs to be said.

"Yeah. Take care, bro."

Then I get out, and he drives off.

Guess it's true what Confucius or whoever said, "The grass is always greener on the other side." Even a guy like Jesse doesn't know what he's got, until it's gone. Or whatever.