Words mine. Story his. Show theirs.


Six

I don't know how she got home. It's only a guess how I did. I'm not sure I am home...

What I do know is there's some kind of storm raging in my stomach and my head's convulsing, over and over, crashing in on itself while a sharp pain pierces out through itself. The thin frame of my body is heavy, laying leaden on the matress. I cannot budge. This must be what death is like, but somehow I keep waking.

I open my eyes when again someone nudges me and calls my name.

"Catalano."

It's Shane. I'm in Shane's bed. Just as well; it's better that I didn't go home last night. A working over like I got... — Jesus, I really can't keep track of the days — usually leaves me in the clear for a little while, but it's never smart to show up completely tanked. It's just not safe.

But it's a trust thing with friends — disappearing and reappearing. Where did they take you? What did they do? What did you do? Sex, drinking, mayhem, these things can keep you going in a suburban town like this. Which only goes to show, people have no idea what they're really looking at, even when it's right before their eyes. Story of my life.

I smell the coffee Shane's handed me; that's about all I can do, there's no way I could think about swallowing that now.

Shane's at my belt buckle, casually, one-handedly, close to dispassionately, undoing the buckle and moving to press down his thumb to pop the top button with one decisive motion. I push him off. (Shane's too desperate sometimes. He reminds me of the red head, what's 'er name.) Instead I'm thinking of the pretty boy with sad eyes who let me kiss him the other day. The newness of it's staying with me, through the fog, through the distractions; something about it 's lingering in the back of my mind.

Shane shrugs the rejection off and tosses me a fresh shirt, God knows I need it. I push myself up — shit; I forgot about my wrist — and rub at my eyes, "You makin' it to school?"

Shane laughs as he digs through a drawer to find me, I'm guessing, a pair of boxers, "Hadn't planned on it; knock yourself out though. But, uh," he adds as he chucks a wad of clothing at my head, "it's Saturday."

Figures. Time, just ... disappears on me.

"Giddy up; it's twenty after eleven already." He ducks into the hall, "I got work."

After a shower, getting sick in the shower, and cleaning up and getting dressed, I swallow four spoonfuls of yogurt, palm five walnut halves, and follow Shane out the door to his car. I don't even know where mine is anymore. Is it at Tino's? My place; school? I didn't drive to Fitz's last night, did I?

...

I end up at the loft for sort of an ad hoc band practice. It's not all the guys in the band, but there's enough guys for a band. We mess around for a couple hours. It's amazing how long I can stand for when there's a guitar in my hands.

After, Ollie goes with me to track down the Plymouth — which turned out to still be round the corner from Tino's. Who's disappeared again.

Back in my car, with nuthin' to do, I use my last $7.50 to fill up, then, just — drive around. People 're always complaining 'bout school, waitin' round for the weekend; 't never makes sense to me. 'Course I don't love sittin' through class, but leastways it gives me something to do — some kind of structure. Most days are just too damn long without it.

It's getting near four and with no school, no work, no Tino, and no one in particular I wanna see, I'm feeling pretty much adrift with a long pointless night looming out before me. Yesterday (was it yesterday?) there were sparks — little electric explosions within myself, connecting me, however briefly, to someone else. Tino. Rickie. There was a jolt, and heat; the starting of something... Now? I'm stopped at a trafic light in an empty car with a still half-empty tank, staring down an empty bouvelard in an empty town looking at nothing to do. Seems like life is one long battle against inertia. Yesterday there was forward movement, or the possibility for it. Where has that potential gone to? Why does that, thing, never last?

Nothing ever lasts. Nothing good. And still nothing ever changes: My dad's a grade-A asshole, always. Tino's just out of reach, always. I'm always the guy everybody wants but don't think they can get, so they take what they want and walk away. I don't mind it. I don't feel used. (Empty maybe.) The point is, I do it too. To all of 'em. I know how to get my way — get what I want, get outta something I don't: blink a little, crack a smile, give a deep sigh. It's easy. Just gets a little boring is all.

I just keep thinking, There's got to be something more...

I role my eyes; another damn thing I got in common with Rayanne Graff.

I guess that's where it comes from, that thing in her driving her the way it does — lookin' to feel something. Something real. Guess that's what that night was really about. God, was that ever a mistake. I felt nothing. Maybe a little disgust.

Tired of the radio and out of preservation of my gas reserve, eventually I pull into the dirty back lot out behind Louie's. This place is more of a Tuesday, Thursday night thing, the crowd on a Saturday's noticeably older and tamer, but I'm not looking to go big tonight. And if I don't get my mind on something else fast I might have to eat something, which'll just make this whole day a waste. (My stomach lining can't take another purge right now.)

But I make a mistake in coming through from the back exit — force of habit — clearly I wasn't thinking when I put myself in the position of having to walk through a running kitchen. Ordinarily food doesn't much tempt me anymore, kinda like there was a divorce or something, but I swear the alcohol from last night 's still sloshing around inside me in some kind of toxic yellow swirl, and the warm, wafting smell of grease 's suddenly seeming like the answer, to a lot of different things. And who am I kidding? The little bit I'd be able to handle 'd never be enough to make any difference to my frame, but then again, that's not the point. It's not about size, it's about withholding, it's about control, and 'bout keeping something going for longer than a moment. Not eating a thing in an entire week? Nothing else lasts that long. Nothing. So I hold my breath, block out the smells of fries and burgers and normalcy, and push through to the front room which smells instead of stale cigarettes and beer. That I can live with.

Sprawled out in a corner booth I lean back and take in the room. There're a couple pool games going. I could get in there, make some quick money; probably should since I'm broke again. But I just keep sitting there.

Another thing I should 'a done was smoked a cigarette while I was still outside, or better yet, in my car. I'm getting close to really needing one but it's too cold outside, and Louie banned me for a month the last time I lit up inside.

No stranger to self-inflicted torture, I twirl my unlit cigarette between one finger to the next, allowing it to spin and drop and lift and balance. This partially works; while I'm still craving the nicotine, part of my smoking habit comes from it giving me something to do with my hands.

"Gonna light that?"

It's Joey.

I look up at him. "Might."

Joey doesn't give a shit. About a cigarette, about a skipped meal, or ten. About me. Joey Patterson doesn't give a shit about any of it, or anything, except himself, and his own good time.

And I halfway like him just because of it.

Joey's the anti-Tino. Without really knowing them they seem pretty much the same; he's just as reckless, just as explosive. But unlike Tino there's nothing else there to balance it out. He's a good enough guy to hang with, can crack a joke, mess around on an engine, keeps a strong beat on the drums, but there's no getting close to Joey. Tino's into the whole anarchy thing because he digs that sort of utopian political overthrow and the aesthetic of the music that goes with it; Joey wants to burn the world down. Tino works to make people laugh, Joey just laughs at them. Tino's got this air that he doesn't give a fuck; Joey really doesn't. People are naturally drawn in to Tino, they can't help it it's who he is; people follow Joey 'cuz he's sharp tongued, direct as shit, and knows what he wants. They're both unpredictable like hell.

"Nice eye," he starts gruffly. (Another thing he has in common with Tino, sarcasm. Only Joey's delivery lacks the glint of fun in Tino's.) "Hey, listen, Tino's got something going by the river; ya in?"

"Naw."

"Whut," he jeers. "Too tired?" Like I said, he really doesn't care about anything, especially some dumb kid purposely starving himself. The way he sees it I could just — stop. And I kind of see his point. Only, I don't want to stop.

I scratch my jaw, "'s too cold." I say it, but it's clear I'm not getting my way on this one. Mostly its easier just to follow my friends, and wasn't I just bitching 'bout there being nothing to do? 'Sides, if it gets really cold, I'll stay in my car 'n stretch out in the backseat. (Maybe find someone to lay there with me.) Dully I rise, and follow him out to the cars.

...

On the embankment south of the second bridge from the interstate, Tino's set up a world of his own. Circled round the bonfire he's built he's pulled down two thrashed sofas from somewhere, a rug, of all things, two kegs, and a bunch of people. This isn't all a high school crowd. Our crowd's here, Shane, and Laurence, Tyler 'n Fitz, but mostly these are guys Tino works with, guys he rides with, women who've gone after him. Tino likes to keep his circle wide. I don't mind, so long as I can lean back, hang out, and stay on his mind, least a little.

I park, steady myself as I traverse down the path through the brush covered bank, side step through the groupings of people, and settle into one of the sofas. I finally smoke the cigarette I'd been waiting for, and steal myself 'gainst what may come next.

A couple people I know drift over and shoot the shit for a little while. One of 'em hands me a flask. Turns out Tino spent the day with some bikers he knows. They rode the two something hours (probably closer to one and three-quarters the way Tino rides) to Allegheny Forest and did some crow hunting. (Sound weird? So does every other thing the guy does.) There's no season on starlings and groundhogs either, but Tino refuses to shoot the birds because of something to do with the time he read some book about a park; my theory's Bill Murray won him over on the other. He had a hard time even with crows for a while when he got to like that song "Murder of One"; then we saw the Brandon Lee picture and he got over it fast. Harleys and hunting; it's easy to forget how different from me he is. Tino sometimes entertains this vision of himself as a good ol' boy from Tennessee or someplace. If he could be Huck Finn I swear he fucking would be. Maybe he is. Huck Finn, Robin Hood, Ferris Bueller, Rhett Butler, Han Solo. Every trickster rogue out there. That's Tino with a punk rock sensibilty and wicked taunting grin. Right now he's probably setting up a still somewhere. The way he likes to stand out is the way I like to blend in.

The music sucks, and it's not loud enough. Clearly Tino's passed this off to someone else. Or else he's occupied with something else. I blow three smoke rings in a row. Used to manage more, but my lung capacity's down.

Laurence passes by and without a word drops a banana in my lap. It's from Tino I know, but he's nowhere about when I look around. Leave it to Tino to lose himself in a party and still have the wherewithal to fortify me with food. Infantilizing as it is, and as cagey as it sometimes makes me feel, there's also a little thrill that comes with it, and a part of me that loves him for it. Christ.

Do I do this so he'll fucking stop me?

I chuck the banana into the four-foot flames. I do not want to be saved. Much as it looks like it, I don't need it.

"Hey; I saw that."

Against all odds it's Rickie Vasquez standing in front of me. "What're you doing here?"

He shrugs, takes a step closer. "Rayanne. Tino. You know."

How Tino can fault me for the thing with Chase and still keep at this ongoing thing with Rayanne Graff is beyond me. Least the thing with Angela is simple; Tino, the way I see it, 's all caught up in complicated I-don't-know-what with Graff.

Rickie takes another step forward, I watch as he sets his knee on the raggy arm of this broken down sofa. I'm very aware of how close to me that's positioned him. He bites that plump lower lip of his, and looks at me from those baby eyes. "Can't believe I never saw it before." He means the not eating thing.

"Well," I yawn, "guess ya gotta be looking." With him looking at me that way I can't help it and I flutter my lashes. "Someone's gotta care to look." Sometimes I can't stop flirting to save my sorry life.

Encouraged, I think, he pushes on, "Why? Why do you do it?" I look at him. Do I tell him? No one but Tino's ever asked; the guys just leave me be. I exhale.

"I don't know..." I scratch the back of my head and try to sort it all out. "Just when you think you can't take it anymore? And your body's gonna collapse in on itself? You ride it out; an' then you're fine again. At least for a few more hours. It's," I think a little on how to put it, "this, thing, that I can do. It's a rush, like... long distance running." The analogy doesn't seem to have gone over, the kid's lookin' at me like I'm crazy.

"Doesn't it hurt?"

"Yeah it fucking hurts. Your body's dying. But, if you can take that, you can take anything."

"You really have got shit for brains, don't you." Suddenly Tino's there and he's slapped me across the backside of the head.

"Hey," I gripe, looking back at him. "I don't judge your shit."

"Yeah, yeah," he patronizes as he climbs the sofa back and takes a seat. "I don't throw it in your face every minute of every goddamn day do I though?" Arrogantly triumphant he answers for me, "Yeah." It seems like he'd made his point but he keeps going. "When was the last time I fainted? Had to be dragged to the nurse, to the doctor, to the hospital? How many bathroom floors have you had to peal me off of?" I start to answer because Tino does Drink. With a capital 'D', and experimentation is his ethos, but I let him him cut me off because I know what he's going to say: "Not anywhere in the same goddamn ball park."

"Okay," I acquiesce. "Lay off."

"You 'lay off'." But he's already cooled down and yielded easily when I shoved him over. He never stays mad long. Not actually; not at me. Though that itself can set 'im off. Tino doesn't like how much he loves me. Sex stuff aside. He doesn't like the responsibility caring so much lays on him. But it's his, and he shoulders it for me. Good thing too, with my frame, I couldn't carry the weight.

Rickie moves to edge away but with little motion I reach out and take hold his sleeve. Tino reaches across me and pushes a bottle of something into his hands. Rickie takes it, but he won't drink it. I don't know much, but that I do know.

The night moves on. Music's played, drinks consumed, logs piled on. At the end of all of it we three make our way back to Tino's. His mom's still at work I guess an' we got the place to ourselves. Though things 've been cool all night, when I move to touch Tino's hand, softly intertwining my fingers with his, he pulls away and focuses his attention on Vasquez.

Turn's out Tino's pissed. He found out about Angela Chase.

He wasn't showing it all night, but it's coming out now. Rickie's heard too. Whether he heard from her or from him it isn't clear, but I can see now he's having a hard time reconciling it. Suddenly I'm on the outs with both these guys. How'd this happen?

We're talking, but in that way where it seems like it's all three of us but it's really just the two of them. I know that move. I've pulled that move; more times than I can count.

I kick my feet off the table, shrug on my jacket, and head for the door. Tino doesn't say a word and the door shuts behind me. He's proving a point.

Well, let 'im. We're friends. When it comes down to it, we're just friends. We're not sp'osed to get jealous, or territorial, or pass judgement. Which, is what he's doing. So it happened with Chase. So what? It wasn't 'bout covering something up, which is what he's faulting me for, so he can just deal with it. I'm done with being pulled six ways at once.

It's questionable whether if I try to drive right now I'd make it all the way home. I opt to hitch. 's safer, and has the promise of something.

Walking backwards down the road, thumb jerked into the street, I let my mind wander and I think about...

Everything.


If you're reading this, how's it going? This is as far as I've written, except a paragraph I love but have yet to find a place in which to insert it. Do I keep going? (I like how dark this story is — if it had a theme song it would be Bright Eyes' "Lover I Don't Have to Love" but a resolution or ending point is eluding me...) Any/all thoughts on any part of the story are most welcome! :-)