The Reality of Fantasy
The restaurant was full of snooty motherfuckers whose credit card debt made Jim's financial woes look like Paul McCartney and Bill Gates had a baby, named her Oprah Winfrey, and stuck her in Jim's wallet. He followed the reed-thin hostess through a maze of tables, squeezing past the throngs of plastic faced people in the throes of Midlife Crisis Extraordinare, to the patio doors on the other side of the bar. In a corner, near the exit gate, sat a large man in a giant motorized wheelchair, with an oxygen tank attached to the back. His shoulders seemed to sag under the weight of the thin tubes that trailed from the top of the tank to somewhere in front of his head. He was wearing a striped, collared t-shirt that looked like it had seen better days, and a pair of khaki shorts over his thick, tree stump legs. The man turned his head at their approach the face was thicker and the skin baggier than Jim remembered it being, but there was no denying it. David Marcus.
And on the other side sat the woman who'd interrupted his weekly fuck last weekend, and was in fact interrupting it now, with her pinched face and disapproving eyes. And in her hand was the same arm of the same child with a head full of golden curls, still leaning away from her grip, trying to get at a flowering bush on the other side of the wrought iron gate. There they all were a perfect little family.
"Here you go, sir." The uncomfortably slender hostess pulled a seat out for Jim and laid an extra menu at the place setting. "Have you folks had your drink orders taken?"
David made a move to answer, but the wife tapped his hand indelicately. "Yes, ice waters. Bring him one too." She pointed at Jim as if cooties were going to jump off his freshly pressed suit and attach themselves to her dragon-clawed fingertip if she put too much effort into the movement. Jim frowned at both her obvious distaste for his presence, and her sudden acquisition of giant, plastic, fire engine red claws. He wouldn't have pegged her for that type.
He looked down at himself. Of course, she probably hadn't pegged him for the type that knew where to get dry cleaning done. He loosened his tie, popped the button on his jacket, and made himself comfortable at the table. "And hello again to you to," he said with a grin.
"I think Jimmy can figure out how to order his own drinks, Christine." David turned away from the woman and held a shaking hand out to Jim. Jim shook it briefly, and wished he'd thought to bring some hand sanitizer with him. "Jimmy, this is my wife, Christine-" David barely finished his statement before he began to hack and wheeze dramatically. The woman Christine leaned over to fiddle with the oxygen tank and waved half heartedly at Jim. Jim's answering shrug was even less enthusiastic. Instead, he focused on the child who was taking advantage of Christine's inattention in a corner of the table. The boy was grabbing leaves off the plants in the planter, and stuffing them in the back pages of a notebook.
When David was able to breathe again, he turned back to Jim as if nothing had happened. "That's a nice jacket there, Jimmy," he said, looking Jim up and down. "You must have quite a job now?"
"Oh cut it out, David, he works for the damn County. They give jobs like that out like candy."
Jim bristled, already sick of her snide remarks and nasty looks. "Oh, really, Christine? That so? Graduate degrees taste like peppermint and chocolate now?" He could see she was getting ready to wind up, but he held his hand up as if to keep any response she might have from traveling across the table. To Jim's surprise, David also gestured for his wife's silence. Jim swallowed down the nasty retort on the tip of his tongue, and tried instead for a more civil response. "Ma'am, the reason the young lady in the library wouldn't answer your questions is because she has a high school diploma and maybe a few half-finished credits at college, which is more than you need to be hired at her position, which is a part time clerk. I'm a librarian, not a clerk. I have a master's degree in looking shit up. There's a reason you pay taxes for someone else to look up strange, obscure factoids for you."
Christine rolled her eyes, but she held her tongue. David began to smile, a sad, floppy little smile. "Well. And all this time dear old Alison thought you were the one corrupting Carol." He reached out and barely brushed Jim's shoulder with his fingertips, as if to offer him what Jim supposed might have been a companionable arm pat.
Jim shrugged and smiled tightly, but he'd reached the end of his patience. He wanted to find out what the fuck David had for him, so he could get on with the rest of his day. "Well, sir, not to be hasty, but I thought we could discuss this... possession, I think you called it?"
David sighed and nodded slowly. "I hate to do this. I don't want to do this, really. But it's all Christine can do to watch us both. And the lines are starting to show up on her face, and she deserves a break." David reached a shaking hand towards his wife, who crossed over her body to grasp it with her free hand. For a moment, she was almost beautiful. Then the boy dropped to the ground and slipped his hands through the bars. A corner of the table cloth was hooked on a button of his shirt, and he jerked it right along with him, sending everything sliding across the table including the centerpiece of real flowers, in a vase what must have been ridiculously ice water, because Christine shrieked loud enough to wake the dead when the water splashed across her lap.
"Goddammit, David, get up!" Jim started at the way she shrieked at her husband and realized that she was talking to the kid. Wow, really? They named the late blooming flower of his loins after him? Jim swallowed down a wave of nausea and kept his mouth shut while Mrs. Marcus maneuvered the kid to the empty chair across from Mr. Marcus. Jim watched as she fussed at the boy and scrubbed his hands with a napkin, as if wiping away all his little boyness would somehow make him be less active, less curious, less of who he was. Jim shook his head of that train of thought and turned his attention back to the elder David.
To Jim's surprise, the old man was not watching the boy, but Jim. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat, as if all the scrutinizing of which he was not aware had been dumped on his head. He tried to smile. "What?"
"I was right. I do see a little of you in him."
Jim shook his head, confused.
"Jimmy... we're too old to be chasing after him, obviously." Marcus waved a meaty manhand in the direction of the not-exactly-quiet freakout in the corner. "Now, I know, you have your life the way you like it, and I had mine the way I liked it too, but once I knew that Carol was in the world would be in the world there was nothing I wouldn't do for her."
Jim stilled. Just what in the fuck was that supposed to mean? And wasn't this the guy who used to chase him off their porch when he just wanted to snuggle up to someone who wouldn't push him away? Wasn't this the hypocrite who told her to keep a fucking lock on her pants while leaving her mother alone all week, so she had to listen to all the reasons her daddy was a fuck-up? What, was that shit for her sake? Was that something he did especially for her?
Marcus went on, apparently unaware of Jim's growing anger. "He's not really a bad kid I know, I haven't been a stellar father figure, but he's good, really, and he needs better than what he'll get when I'm gone "
"So, wait, you want me, your daughter's ex-boyfriend, to take in your son. Dude, that just seems..." Jim paused at the odd look on Marcus' face. "What?"
Mr. Marcus just blinked in confusion. He looked to his wife, as if he didn't know how to proceed. She snorted and jerked her head in the boy's direction. "He's your kid. Or, at least, Carol thinks he is. Dave thinks so too." Silverware clattered to the ground, and Mrs. Marcus turned her attention to the boy again. "David George Marcus, stop squirming, or I will..."
The rest of the threat went unheard. All Jim could hear was blood rushing past his ear drums. There was no way, no way that was his kid. No way. No. No way.
The boy turned his face to Jim sweet, innocent, blue eyed. He looked a bit like Carol, he supposed, though he looked more like the elder David, really. The boy cocked his head and sighed not a dramatic put-on, but a genuine, bone-tired breath of air held too long in his little body.
Holy fuck, that was Winona's sigh. The sigh she breathed when the doctors came to tell her that visiting hours were over. The sigh she breathed when the judge presided over their case. The sigh she breathed the last time Jim bothered to put up with his stepfather's special brand of bullshit. If sighs could possibly have a genetic marker, this kid had Winona's.
Jim pushed away from the table. "I... look, I'm sorry about your health, and I'm sorry about... whatever it is that happened to Carol, but I can barely take care of myself. I - I can't help you." Jim pushed away from the table and shoved his way through the crowded restaurant to the door.
By the time Jim got home from the restaurant and had a chance to wash off all the smog from stomping through the streets of L.A., it was time for him to run right back out the door. He left on foot, just as he had for the restaurant that morning, and made it to a small house in a questionable neighborhood in good time. A small, cherubed face blonde opened the door when Jim rang the bell. "Jimmy!" She wrapped her arms around Jim tight and pulled him inside with glee. "Jimmy's here, Jimmy's here!"
Jim extricated himself from the young woman's arms and held her off at arm's length. "Well, hello to you too, Carolyn." It seemed the whole gang was still running together even Little Carolyn P. was still hanging onto the big kids, just like she had in high school. Was he the only one who'd fallen away from the group?
Jim was shaken from his musings by the overenthusiastic bundle of bounce he still held at arms length clearly, he hadn't fallen far from them. Carolyn cooed joyously and called over her shoulder again, until a long lanky man that looked uncomfortably like a daddy long legs came loping in the room. Jim gave Carolyn's arms a squeeze and braced himself for a tackle that would throw him across the room. Finnegan was known for putting the horse in horseplay.
But to Jim's surprise, Finnegan approached quietly, hand held out to shake perfunctorily, and turned away quickly, beckoning over an awkward shoulder for Jim to follow. Jim stood there dumbly, until Carolyn poked him in the back with her tiny, sharp little fingertips. He finally fell into step behind crazy ass Finnegan, marveling at how Gary had managed to tame even this wildness.
They went down a darkened hall and turned off through the last door on the right. The door opened up into a large, brightly light room, filled with boxes in the corner. A couple of unfamiliar teenaged boys were rifling through the boxes, coming up with smaller boxes that rattled as they pulled them out of the bigger shipping boxes. They passed these small boxes to a group of young women who sat in a semi-circle on the floor, surrounding a pile small clear plastic ziptop bags full of different colored pills. Another woman, a little older than the rest, but still too young to have been part of Jim's high school clique, stood over the teens and sorted through the pile of filled ziptops, haranguing the kids when she wasn't satisfied with some indistinguishable point of the sorting process. When she seemed satisfied with a particular group of bags, she gathered them up and set them on a table a little ways away from the kids, and sorted the bags again.
It was from this last group of bags that Finnegan grabbed a pair of ziptops stuffed to bursting. He looked at the woman dourly. She flinched and hustled to another corner of the room, where several small, cheap plastic drawers were stacked together to make a customizable, modular storage unit. From one of these drawers, she pulled another bag, this one slightly less stuffed. It had three big strips of red duct tape on either side. She held the bag out to Finnegan, who just stared at her as if she was some kind of fucking moron. After an awkward moment, she shifted silently, offering the bag to Jim. He took it gingerly. "Thanks."
"Don't thank her. She's less than a whore," Finnegan muttered. Carolyn giggled behind Jim and nuzzled up against his back, as if to explain by example why exactly whores were better than whatever this other girl was. Jim shrugged slightly and kept his mouth shut. He had no stomach for criminal politics. All he wanted to do was get his medicine cabinet in order. If that meant reserving his courtesy for some people and not others for reasons that seemed purely arbitrary, well... Still, when Finnegan turned his back to leave the room, Jim couldn't help but glance at the woman in the back room. Her face was flushed, and she lowered her eyes quickly, even as Jim was already turning his attention back to the matter at hand.
Finnegan led Jim and Carolyn out of the room and back up the hall. But instead of going all the way out into the livingroom proper, they turned off into a small room just before the front end of the hall. It was painted sour-apple-candy green, and filled with huge, plush looking beanbag chairs and ottomans covered in velveteen that had been dyed in vivid shades of pink, orange and purple. Jim half expected the walls to start bleeding polka dots and to see garden gnomes riding unicorns past the uncurtained windows that looked out onto the quiet, unassuming street. Carolyn trotted up to a particularly pink chair and curled herself in it, still tittering happily to herself.
Finnegan sighed heavily and plopped down on a dark green ottoman that looked a lot sturdier than any of the ridiculous chair shaped furnishings in the room. Jim picked a fuzzy orange thing that looked more like one of Pac-Man's sworn enemies than seating. It didn't try to eat him, so he settled in and faced Finnegan, though he kept both the door and Carolyn in his peripheral vision.
Finnegan seemed to note Jim's position, and nodded quietly. "Good to see you didn't get careless when you left us, Jimmyboy." The use of this (still ridiculously fucking annoying) nickname was the first time Finnegan gave any indication that he was really the same guy who'd once launched a large scale prank war against Jim for no other reason than "because you're there, Jimmyboy!"
Jim shrugged. "I haven't been completely out of touch with the scene. I just " Jim squirmed. Why the fuck was he telling Finnegan this shit? He certainly didn't owe anybody any explanations.
But Finnegan just smiled and relaxed. "Keep your secrets, Jimmyboy," he lilted softly. "Nobody likes a braggart, after all. It's bad for business. Makes people think you can't keep their secrets if you're bursting to tell your own." He waggled his eyebrows in a faint imitation of that insane look he used to give Jim before inciting the Varsity football team to pelt Jim with waterballoons. Jim tensed, waiting for a bucket of maple syrup and a bag of feathers to drop from a trap door in the ceiling, but no such prank was forthcoming. Finnegan simply pointed at the tape covered baggie that hung limply from Jim's hands. "That's the stuff you're responsible for. Did Dizzy Miss Lizzy tell you the price?"
Jim smiled a little at this. Still with the annoying nicknames. He half wondered if the girl in the back of the house had been bestowed with a nickname, or if that was reserved for high class whores like Elizabeth, or Carolyn. Or Carol... Jim jumped when one of Finnegan's long booted feet darted out to poke him in the shin, but it brought him back to the present. "Uh, two hundred bucks? Twenty bucks a pop?"
"Right, right, focus now, Jimmyboy. That's right, two hundred dollars. And if we hear later that the price has gone up, you know Brainiac will send his favorite goons after you. So don't get greedy." Finnegan tossed Jim the other bag. "If you start to feel greedy, you can start selling that bag. Same prices for the pills. You don't have to empty the second bag, and there won't be a third one coming tonight, just so you know, but if you do, you get to keep a nice skim that I'll be handing off to you here, in this house, after the party. And, yes, you get to pick up your prearranged payment then too, and no, not before."
Jim frowned. "What if I sell it all before the party breaks up?"
Finnegan laughed. "Do you not go to parties anymore, Jimmyboy? All work and no play makes Jimmy a dull boy!"
Jim's frowned deepened. "I have very small get togethers with very specific people. I also have work in the morning, and no car to get there in."
Finnegan nodded sagely. "Right, right, I forgot about transportation. Well... in that case, what with you being an old friend and all, I suppose it'll be alright if we do business in the back room at the party..." He stood abruptly. "But don't go thinking you're back in the thick of it with us. I don't know what you told Brainiac that has him all sentimental-like, but that's exactly what it is sentiment." Finnegan smiled slowly. "That, of course, isn't written in stone, Jimmyboy. After all, you are an old friend. Am I right, now, Little Carolyn P?"
"Always, Finnegan, always!" Jim turned his attention more fully to Carolyn, who sprung to her feet and was tipping her way over to them. "And don't you worry about a thing, Jim. I'll see to it myself that you have a good time." With that, she yanked Jim to his feet, and pulled with all her might towards the front door. "See you there, Finnegan," she singsonged on their way out the door.
She practically shoved Jim into the driver's seat of a gold, late model Nissan sedan. It was sleek and shiny, even in the relative darkness of summer twilight and the orangey dim glow from the streetlight on the corner. The interior was just as sleek, and just as shiny, with silvery piping on the faux wood dash. It was ridiculous. Carolyn dove into the front passenger seat and leaned over the gearshift to dangle the keys in front of Jim's eyes. "She drives like a dream, Jim. I know you love cars. Go ahead. I trust you."
Jim nearly growled when he snatched the keys from her hand. "I don't love cars. I love my car." He jammed the key in the ignition and jerked it roughly. He smirked in satisfaction when the engine squealed from the rough treatment. "Oops," he said, insincerely.
Carolyn pouted for about half a nanosecond before bouncing excitedly in her seat. "Can we get something from 7-Eleven? I wanna make a fashionably late entrance."
Jim put the car in gear and peeled away from the curb, despite the fact that he had no idea where the hell this party was supposed to be. "You should have gotten behind the wheel if you wanted to be late. Where the fuck am I going?"
Carolyn giggled happily. "Silly Jim. You don't even know where you're going?"
"Yeah, well, I also don't know where there's a 7-Eleven, so there you go. Seriously, I'm not on solid ground with Gary. I'm nervous, and I don't want to be out here fucking around. Just drop me off at the party, and you can get your Slurpee or whatever."
In the end, they wound up at 7-Eleven first anyway, which Jim sort of knew from past experience was going to happen. Whatever. He stood by the register and glared while Carolyn picked up a giant bottle of Olde English, a box of chocolate covered mini donuts and a bag of Cool Ranch flavored Doritos. Then she asked the clerk for a huge hot dog and a couple of chicken wings from the hot box. Once she had her dinner bundled up in a giant grocery bag and was sashaying out to the car, Jim breathed a sigh of relief.
Until she opened the bottle of Olde English before she got the car door closed.
Jim reached out and snatched the bottle from her hand, nearly spilling the malted beverage all over the leather interior. "Hey," he hissed. "What the fuck are you trying to do? We have shit to fucking sell in this car, Carolyn!"
The sweet, giggly Carolyn disappeared, and was replaced by a cold, hard shell of a woman that Jim had never seen the likes of before. "Fuck you, James Kirk. We all gotta get through the fucking night. You wouldn't even be selling your shit if you didn't need your fucking medicine." She smiled nastily at shock. "Yeah, I bet you thought I didn't know about that. Well, guess what, buddy? You're not the only one with fucking issues. Mama needs her medicine before she can even open up the goddamn shop. But you've got it easy. You can keep all your fucking clothes on when you make your sell." She reached out and snatched the bottle back, and took a healthy gulp. "Just drive and don't make a bunch of fucking retarded lane changes, and nothing will happen to your ass." She reclined the back of her seat until she was almost completely on her back. "Besides, you can give me the shit while we're in the car. It's my car, my shit. I'll take the hit if you're scared."
Jim scowled, but he started the car and pulled out of the parking lot. "Which way do I go?"
"Make a right out of the lot, and a left at the first light." Carolyn directed them to the party by rote, not bothering to double check their position when she gave it to Jim. After a few minutes they came upon a tired looking old warehouse next to a set of rusty railroad tracks. When the car bumped and bounced over the tracks, Carolyn sat up, looking contrite. "I'm sorry, Jim. You must be scared, and here I am being a... a chick about things." She spat the word 'chick' out like it was a foul curse. Maybe it was. She put her hand on Jim's wrist. It was cold and damp, probably from holding onto the malt like it was a lifeline. "We okay?"
Jim parked her car in a dark spot on the street, away from the warehouse proper, and turned to look at her. She was a funny looking thing, cute, but not pretty. He wondered if she still carried a torch for him, or if enough water had flowed under that bridge. He patted her hand and pulled away, distinctly uncomfortable. "We're cool," he said.
She looked momentarily disappointed, then angry, and finally, sweet and cheerful. Jim decided to give her a wide berth in the party, and got out of the car. He grabbed his baggies and left her to deal with her snacks and locking up her precious car by herself. He had his own shit to worry about.
Jim approached the only door he could see. He tried it it opened easily. He stepped into a room not dissimilar to the back room of the library. He could faintly hear music, and could see the ghost of colored lights flashing here and there through the various doorways that lead deeper into the warehouse. Jim went by each door, listening carefully to the music. He decided the music was loudest coming from the door farthest to the left, and entered softly.
Loud music and bright flashing lights assaulted his senses. He was standing at the end of a hallway that seemed to lead to a giant shipping room. There were about eleventy zillion million bodies writhing in time to the music at the end of the hall. The hall itself had a few people loitering within. They didn't seem terribly interested in Jim. That was fine with him Jim wasn't exactly interested in them, or anything that was going on beyond them, either. As for the people beyond, they all looked like they were already flying higher than the fireworks show on Main Street USA on the Fourth of July. This was going to be harder than Jim originally thought much harder. He mentally cinched up his proverbial suspenders, and walked into the teeming throng of dancing bodies.
The music pulsated through Jim's body. He wished he'd thought to bring earplugs, but this throbbing rave was not what he'd imagined when he heard the word party. He paused in the middle of the room, and tried not to look as out of place as he felt, bopping his head to the really irritatingly repetitive beat of the super electronic music.
Someone pushed past him, a couple of someones, complaining to each other that there was no point in staying. Jim agreed, but he kept his mouth shut, and followed, curious. He knew why he was hanging out in a gathering that was totally not his scene why in the hell would someone else subject themselves to that kind of misery?
He could only catch bits and pieces of the conversation, but the person in the back seemed most reluctant to leave. "But I heard that The Brain was going to be here or somebody with connections..."
Jim frowned and trotted a little closer to the group mostly female, with a very tall young man leading the pack. He seemed brittle and... screechy was the word that came to mind. The young man reached back and grabbed the recalcitrant girl at the end of the group, and drew up short when he realized that Jim had followed them. "What?"
Jim had a hunch. "I don't suppose you kids are looking to score?"
The group turned en masse to look Jim up and down. They made no sound, but Jim had the distinct impression that they were all laughing uproariously at him. He stood his ground, and looked at the girl who'd heard about The Brain. "What did you want to buy, sweetie?"
She glanced at her friends, but she took a step forward, and said under her breath, "Klonopin."
Jim breathed a sigh of relief and smiled broadly. "I think I can help you. Let's do business." He looked around for a place to sit comfortably, but, finding none, shrugged and reached in his jacket for the bag pills. "Sorry, I'm a little disorganized."
He realized what a foolish move it was to show half his damn inventory in one move when the boy reached out and snatched the bag from Jim's hand. The group took off running even the girl who'd wanted to wait them out. Jim's mouth went dry, and he shoved through the crowd, barreling into people until he got into the hallway proper where the guys who'd been hanging out before were now holding onto the boy and wrestling with the girls.
To Jim's relief, the girl who'd wanted to do business had the bag in her hands, and was standing just inside the doorway to the hall. She held the sealed bag out to Jim. "Sorry about that." She glanced back at the melee in the hall. "I don't want anybody after me." She leaned a little closer to Jim and lowered her voice. "I don't really want them to come after my friends either..." She looked at Jim with big, wide green eyes.
Jim snorted. "Yeah, well, you need better friends." He looked down at the bag in his hand, and glanced at her through his eyelashes. "Still want to party?"
She looked back at her friends, who were slowly giving into the fight. "I..."
"Either shit or get off the pot. I have to go to work in the morning. I don't want to be out here all fucking night with a bunch of snot nosed kids."
The girl looked at Jim sharply. He chose to meet her indignation with indifference. Jim arranged his stash so he was better able to get at the goods without risking losing them all again, with hardly a glance in her direction. When he was satisfied that he could get to everything comfortably, he looked up at the girl again. "So?"
"Yeah," she said glumly, "I still wanna party."
Jim smiled, pouring every ounce of charm he had into it. He gestured at the pulsating dance floor. "Please, step into my parlor."
The rest of the party went more smoothly after that. The first sale caught the eye of a couple more interested parties, and before long, Jim had sold out of both bags, and was being subtly questioned for more. He slipped out of the crowd as quickly as he could, feeling like a particularly juicy slab of meat during feeding time at the lion's cage. When he got to the hallway, the lounging party makers waved half heartedly at him. He nodded back, and paused at the last one. "You have Finnegan's number?"
The guy narrowed his eyes at Jim, but he didn't make a move. "Who's asking?"
Jim smiled. "Jimmyboy. I was supposed to meet him in a backroom, but... I changed my mind. I need some fresh air. Tell him I'll meet him at the house." Jim turned away without waiting for a response, walked out of the hall to the quiet of the front room, and finally, exited to the damp chill of the night. It would take him the better part of an hour to walk to the drughouse. He welcomed the solitude.