The Reality of Fantasy
Chapter 6 - Just Another Manic Monday


Come Monday morning, Leonard was pulling up to the curb just as Jim stepped out of the gate to wait for him. "Morning," Jim grunted, as he plopped down in the car. Leonard's nasty, unintelligible growl caught Jim, who was by no means a morning person, completely off guard. "What's with you?"

Leonard just growled again and jammed his foot on the accelerator so hard Jim was sure they were both gonna wind up with the helluva case of whiplash. The car jerked away from the curb and didn't merge with traffic so much as slice through it, like an arrow from a pneumatic bow. Jim gripped the dash and door with a white knuckled grip, and waited for his belly to come back into the front seat from the trunk.

Once he was acclimated to the ridiculous speed, Jim realized that there were two, not one, steaming hot paper cups in the cup holders by his left knee. "Is that coffee?"

"No, it's a cup of boiling piss, fresh from my cat's bladder. Filtered through the finest litter clay."

Jim snorted and grabbed the cup closest to him. "Thanks." The responding grunt was slightly less belligerent. Slightly. Jim tried for a bit of conversation. "So. Do anything interesting this weekend?"

"It's too fucking early in the goddamn morning for all this damn talking, Jim."

Jim ground his teeth together so hard they screeched in his skull, like nails on a chalkboard, but he managed to keep his foot out of his mouth. Instead, Jim hunkered down in the seat, and stared out of the window. He half hoped Leonard would berate him for sulking, but apparently, Leonard was quite content to drive in silence.

They pulled into the parking lot with just minutes to spare. Leonard was out of the car and halfway to the building before the engine was completely off. Jim stared at Leonard's back irritably, and vowed not to take Leonard up on any potential offers for lunch.

The morning was long and sour. It wasn't as if Jim and Leonard spent much time together while on the clock – one was almost always on reference when the other was maintaining the library collection. Jim was as preoccupied by the idea that he was preoccupied with Leonard as he was actually preoccupied by Leonard's behavior in the car. It was... irritating.

And so, when lunch came around, Jim was still fuming about having been shut down on the way to work. He stalked out to the loading dock, cigarette already in mouth, and lit up before the door could close. He sucked the cigarette down in five long drags, and pulled out a second one, hoping to calm his tightly wound nerves.

Before he could get the cigarette fully lit, there was a hand on his back. "Put the cancer stick down, kiddo. We're going up to O'Henry's – my treat." Leonard slid around Jim and headed down the loading dock steps. He paused when he realized that Jim wasn't hot on his heels. "C'mon, Jim!"

Jim puffed at the cigarette until he got it going, stuck his lighter in his back pocket, and took a long drag before casually turning away from Leonard. "Not hungry."

A seagull landed on the dumpster that was inside of in its specially built dumpster-hidey-hole on the other side of the loading dock, and turned his head this way and that, as if he couldn't understand why Jim would turn down the offer of free hamburgers and beer. He edged a little closer, then suddenly hopped up and flapped away as if his life depended on it. Jim resisted the urge to look over his shoulder to see what had spooked the bird.

He could feel the heat of another person on his neck, on the shell of his ear. Leonard's voice was soft and low. "You're mad at me." Jim stared straight ahead and took another drag on his cigarette. He could feel Leonard's sigh rather than hear it – a soft, warm, damp breeze that drifted over his cheek. "Jim... I guess I should have warned you that I'm not a morning person. If I said something you found insulting this morning... don't take it personally."

Jim blew smoke rings into the sky above the dumpster. He watched them bleed into one another before they dissipated altogether. Would Jim fade like that if he were set on fire? Turn into a column of billowing smoke that spread on the wind? Or would he just topple over and burn to ash, like the stick of dried leaves in his hand?

"Jim?"

Maybe he'd sizzle and pop, like a fake log made of pressed oils and chemicals, wrapped in shiny paper and sold in shiny cardboard boxes. Not the real thing, but close enough for a proper yuletide celebration around the hearth. Yeah. "I'm not a morning person either, Leonard. But I tried. I made an effort to be civil." Jim flicked the butt of his burnt out cigarette into the dumpster and turned to look Leonard in the eye.

Leonard looked pained, to be sure. He nodded. "I'm sorry."

"You should be. You were rude."

The look on Leonard's face began to shift slowly from sadness to anger. "I got it. I said I was sorry."

"And I said you should be, because you were rude." Jim turned towards the door. "I also said I wasn't fucking hungry. And you said I talk too fucking much. I could go on all fucking day with the things I said, versus the things you said." He put his hand on the knob and yanked it open. "You'd better go to lunch if you want any peace, man. I'm still talking. Excuse me, fucking talking." He went inside, leaving Leonard standing on the loading dock.

In the end, Jim's vow to resist Leonard's lunch offer also cost him a ride home, but Jim was just fine with that. He wasn't in the mood to kiss and make up just yet, and trapping himself in a big ass boat of a car with its owner didn't seem like a wise move anyway. So instead Jim helped himself to the petty cash fund from the Friends of the Library booksale, and took the bus home.

Ah, yes, the bus. By the time Jim had stepped onto his third and (thankfully) final bus for the night, he began to reconsider his determination to be pissed off at Leonard. The loud noises, repulsive smells, and questionable clientele were bad enough, but the fact that his commute took more than three times it normally did was demoralizing.

When Jim got through his front door, he half hoped there would be a message waiting for him. Nothing.

He set his things down, stepped into the shower, and ran it as hot as he could stand it, until his skin turned lobster red, and steam seemed to billow up from his pores. He soaped down quickly, scrubbing the suds into his skin with his fingernails, bringing up welts all over his already touch-tender skin, little cornrows that stung and burned. And when the water ran cold and shriveled his sex into little hard prunes, turned his red skin a mottled pink and white, he plucked at the hairs around his nipples until both nubs stood up, like angry little pink pebbles on a red and white shore.

Finally, when Jim could think of no other way to distract him from the disappointment of pointless arguing, he got out of the shower and stared at himself. He could have spoken to the mirror, told his reflection what he thought of its stupidity and stubbornness, but that was too clichι, too adolescent. So he just stared at himself and watched the water slide down his face, his shoulders, his arms and belly, until he was dry and shivering, and the welts he'd scratched into his skin had either calmed down and smoothed out, or swollen thick and red, juicy with his surface blood.

His belly rumbled. He should have made ramen for lunch. But when he'd looked at the cup, all dusty and crumpled, all he could think about was Leonard making a crack about freeze dried 'styro-crap'. Enraged, he'd thrown the cup back in its hideyhole and spent the rest of his lunch hour on the phone with the blockheaded pharmacists at Kaiser Permanente, trying to convince them to replace his stolen prescription. Now, though, he felt sick and maybe a little deranged.

He grabbed a couple of the handful of pills he'd earned the night before at the so called party, and stumbled into the kitchen. There was a carton of milk, a random carrot (...the hell'd I buy a single carrot for??), a slab of something greenish-black and covered in white fur that he could swear was moving, and a to-go box that looked like it had been bleeding when he'd put it in the refrigerator. Fan-fucking-tastic. Resigned, Jim reached for the milk and carrot. He sniffed the milk carton – it smelled like dirty, sweaty feet. He grimaced and thrust the carton back in the refrigerator again, as if it had purposefully offended him, and thus deserved to be offended in kind. He waved the carrot around – floppy. Whatever. He bit into it – chewy, but sweet, and still somewhat carrot flavored. He swallowed the pills dry between bites of old carrot, and wandered into his bedroom, where he could pass out comfortably, finally numbed of the day's gross indignities.


Jim's phone startled him out of a dreamless sleep at a quarter to ass o'clock in the morning. He jumped up, flailing in the silken sheets that he'd wrapped himself in like a burrito during the night. He grabbed the phone, jammed the 'talk' button just a teense harder than necessary, and barked into the phone. "What!"

An exaggerated yawn stretched on into eternity on the other end of the line, followed by an inordinate amount of lip smacking. "You up yet, Jim?"

Jim blinked confusedly in the darkness. "Leonard?"

"No, it's the fucking Pope come to escort your ungrateful ass to the pearly gates. Am I picking your ass up this morning or not? Because if not, I can go the fuck back to fucking sleep."

Sleepy and confused as Jim was, he was lucid enough to know a good deal when he heard it. "Yeah, yeah. Do you want me to make coffee?"

"Whatever." The line went dead.

Jim looked at the phone and shrugged. Whatever, then. Jim didn't have to play nice to take advantage of an offer too good to pass up – especially when he wasn't the one who started the fight. He lay back, intending to catch up on sleep, when sirens came wailing up from the street. A moment later, a helicopter seemed to hover right over the apartment building. A moment after that, a bright light shone in his window, like the dastardly criminal who'd committed some dastardly crime would be instantly transported into somebody's second story apartment through a closed fucking window. Jim sighed and tossed the sheets off himself. It looked like he was going to be making coffee after all.

By the time Leonard pulled up, the activity was just dying down, but there were still plenty of squad cars in the way. Jim waved half heartedly at his ride and sauntered out into the street, stainless steel travel mugs in hand. He plopped down wordlessly in the car and passed Leonard one of the cups. He got a grunt in thanks, and settled in for a long, silent ride to work.

When lunchtime rolled around, Jim decided to be proactive in his lunch plans. He wandered out to the floor, where Leonard was preparing to make a grand exit from the reference desk. "Got plans?" Jim asked with what he hoped was an open smile.

Leonard looked at him warily, but he shook his head. "Did you?"

"Nah. I thought I'd just tag along wherever you wind up, me and my noodle cup."

Leonard wrinkled his nose. "I think not. Lemme guess. You're hoping that offer for O'Henry's is still good."

Jim felt his heart sink at Leonard's phrasing, but he kept his sunny smile plastered to his face. "Like I said, I can just bring what I've got-"

"Forget it. Look, I was an ass, you were an ass in return, we're both asses. Can we drop it, quit dancing around each other? I had to do this shit with the ex before she was the ex, and I don't like it." Leonard came around from behind the desk and nudged Jim with an elbow. "Besides, you made me coffee. I can't stay mad a guy that makes me coffee."

Jim's relieved laughter gusted out of him, a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding. Was his lunch break ritual with Leonard really that fucking important? "Well, I can't stay mad at a guy that rescues me from public transportation hell. Coffee was the least I could do."

"Was it, now? I bet you could do one better."

Jim blinked in confusion. "How's that?"

"Quit eatin' that freeze dried-"

"Nothing doing!" Jim knew his laughter could be heard through the entire building. He didn't give a damn.


Naturally, because Tuesday had gone so smoothly, Wednesday was turning out to be a bitch of a day. Jim awoke to the annoying chirping of a neighbor's brand new and highly obnoxious alarm clock. He rolled out of bed with a sigh, stomped into the kitchen to start a small pot of coffee, and was nearly electrocuted for his efforts. A cacophony of swearing from the other apartments in the building told him that his short circuit was not an isolated occurrence. Annoyed, Jim stomped into the bathroom to get ready for work.

He was dressed and waiting on the curb in plenty of time, but Leonard was nowhere to be found. Several cars pulled out of the driveway on the side of the building, and Jim received a number of odd looks from his neighbors. He smiled and nodded at most of them, but by the time the housewives with curlers in their hair were sputtering by in their beat up Hondas and Hyundais, Jim was all out of patience.

He ran back up the stairs and burst into his apartment to check the time – he should have been at work more than ten minutes ago. Yeah, okay, clearly that wasn't going to happen. Jim tugged at his hair in a panic. Had Leonard forgotten him? Had he gotten in an accident? He looked at the answering machine – no message. Fuck. Desperate, Jim called the library.

"Manhattan Heights Library," came Spock's gravelly intonation. Jim paused, surprised that Spock would answer the phone. Where the hell was the part time staff? "Manhattan Heights-"

Jim shook himself. "Spock! Is Leonard there yet?"

Jim could practically hear Spock's eyebrow climbing into his hairline. "I was under the impression that you and Leonard had arranged to carpool together until such time as you are able-"

Jim gritted his teeth to keep from screaming aloud. "Brevity is the better part of valor, Spock. Yay or nay?"

"Jim, the correct word is 'discretion', not-"

Jim did scream, then. "I WAS TELLING YOU TO ANSWER THE QUESTION!"

"Ah. I see," Spock said, though it was clear he didn't see at all. "Nay, I believe. Are you not-"

"Fuck! Uh, is Christopher around?"

"Indeed. Would you like to-"

"GOD, YES, FOR FUCK'S SAKE." Jim's scalp hurt. He glanced down at his hand, to see tufts of hair clutched in his fist. He shook the hair out of his hand in horror, and ran to the bathroom to check the damage.

"Jim, where the hell are you two?" Christopher wasted no time getting to the point.

"I'm at home, and I-"

"What the hell do you mean you're still at home? Where the hell is Leonard? I'm missing an assistant, an aide, two pages and two goddamn librarians! What the hell is going on-"

Jim groaned and went back to the living room to plop down on the couch. "I'm sorry, I don't know, he's really late-"

Chris cut him off with a chewing out that would make an army sergeant's ears curl. By the end of the tirade, Jim was shaking – whether from embarrassment or rage, Jim couldn't say. He mumbled something incoherent, and ended the phonecall without waiting to hear if Chris understood or even gave a shit about his response. He got up to put the phone back in its charger – and realized there was a person standing in the open doorway. He hurled the phone at the intruder's head, who didn't quite duck fast enough.

"Fuck!"

"Shit!"

Jim straightened up from his crouched position and peered at the man in the doorway. "Leonard?"

"NO, FUCKING PABLO PICASSO!" Leonard held his hand pressed against his eye. "What in fucking hell is wrong with you?!"

"You don't just fucking sneak up on somebody like that, man! I could have had a fucking weapon!"

Leonard pulled his hand away from his face and checked it before waving it around furiously. "You did have a fucking weapon! Came this fucking close to blinding me!"

"You should have knocked on the damn door!"

"I DID!"

"WHERE THE FUCK HAVE YOU BEEN?!"

Leonard huffed a couple of breaths before he turned around and started to stomp down the stairs. "Fuck you, man, you ain't my fuckin' daddy, and you sure as hell ain't my fuckin' wife. EITHER COME ON OR STAND THERE AND SCREAM LIKE A FUCKING IDIOT!"

Jim snatched his shit up and slammed the door behind him. "Slow down! Goddammit-"

"COME. ON. LATE."

"You're the one that's fucking late, not me! I had my ass out here waiting for you, until five fucking minutes ago, and I just got the fuck of a lecture from Fancy Ass Pike, so don't you fucking take that tone with me!" Jim caught up to Leonard right at the car – and realized that Leonard had parked where the street sweeper was due any second now. "Leonard, you can't park on this side at-"

Leonard held up a single finger, silently demanding Jim's silence. He had a small white envelope crumpled in the resulting fist. "Just shut up. Get in the car."

Jim glared a moment longer before finally lowering himself into the front seat. They rode in stony silence, separated by a chasm of anger and the foulness of their moods. Jim was unsurprised when the car screeched to a stop just below the loading dock. He got out without a word, and went into the library as quickly as he could, ignoring the sound of tires burning against the blacktop as Leonard sped off towards parts unknown.

Jim didn't bother to drop his things off at his desk, but moved right on to the floor, to take a seat next to Chris at the reference desk. "Oh no you don't," Chris growled before Jim could get fully settled. "It's Storytime, and Spock's been covering the circulation desk all morning." Sure enough, Spock was approaching the children's area, and looking towards Reference with an odd expression on his face. Chris pointed towards the circ desk and swung his chair to face Jim. "Congratulations. Now you get circ duty."

Jim felt his face crumple. Sixty five thousand fucking dollars in school loans, and he had no idea how to check a book out to a patron. Oh, he'd been to the class that all library staff were required to take, and he had the basic jist of how to check a book out to himself, but there were... nuances. He had the authority to tell the circ staff to override certain commands, but he had no idea how to do that sort of thing himself.

Chris was throwing him to the fucking lions.

When Chris' finger didn't waver, Jim got up and left the reference desk, resigned to his fate. He dragged his feet back towards Circulation, picked a chair in the corner, and glowered at the poor little old lady who hadn't called in sick or whatever the fuck happened to the rest of the circ staff. Whatever.

A short line formed at the circ desk, and Jim handled the patrons more easily than he'd feared he'd be able. He started to relax, when Chris jumped up from his seat across the room and bellowed, "YOU!" Everyone jumped and looked at Chris like he was nuts, and then turned to look in the doorway to the back room. Leonard stood there, jacket in hand, nasty scowl on his face. He sighed and waved Chris off, but apparently the bossman was having none of that. "My office! Now!"

Jim snuck another look at Leonard, whose face was positively murderous, but he kept his mouth shut. It would serve Leonard right to get chewed out – it was his fault they were so late to work, not Jim's.

A flustered woman with wild, half combed hair and a sunburn on one arm came breezing into the library, demanding to speak with a supervisor this very instant. Arlene, the little old lady, pointed a shaking finger at Jim and stepped back from the desk, as if distancing herself from the circulation computers would make her magically unavailable for any transaction with the woman. Jim sighed and glanced over his shoulder, at the open window into the Community Library Manager's office. He could see Christopher and Leonard were engaged in the hell of a yelling match. He turned towards the floor again. Just beyond the reference desk, Spock was reading a picture book to a group of enthralled toddlers. It looked like Jim was gonna have to be it. "Can I help you, ma'am?"

"Well I just don't know!" She thrust a flap of paper under Jim's nose. It was an automatically generated mailing from Library Headquarters. Perfect. Jim read the notice with increasing trepidation, while the woman ranted and raved about incompetency or some shit. The notice itself was far more succinct about the problem at hand. Late items. Lost fee. Cap account. Collections. In short, Jim was probably going to have to deal with the cash register. Wonderful.

As the woman's ire escalated, the muffled shouting from Chris' office began to die. Jim checked the window – the curtain was drawn. He turned to Arlene, who was huddled by the returns cart, but she looked like she wanted to turn around and run into the backroom, and quite possibly out the back door. Useless cow. Jim turned his attention to the computer and pulled up the account associated with the mailing in his hand.

In addition to owing over two hundred dollars, the woman had a note on her record indicating that she'd been to three different libraries demanding that the fee be waived. Oh, I got your, bitch. Jim rolled his eyes and slid the mailing back across the desk to the woman. "Mkay, yeah, you can shut up, now. I'm not waiving this. If you don't want to pay the fine, you don't have to. We don't care. It's already in collections, and the most that'll happen to you is you'll probably get a couple more notices in the mail, and we won't let you have our free stuff. Big fat."

The woman sputtered for a moment. "You – that's – I want to talk to your supervisor!"

Jim smiled gleefully. "Sure thing! He's in that office right there," he said, hooking a thumb over his shoulder at the window behind him. "If you just take a seat right there, at that table – yeah, that one – you probably can catch him when he gets done chewing out my coworker for being half an hour late. I'm sure he'll be more than happy to tell you what you can do with that notice of yours."

Right on cue, the door to Chris' office opened. Leonard stormed out, face almost purple with rage. Chris came out a moment later, looking winded. "Jim, can I see you-"

"Which one of you is his supervisor?" The woman marched up to Leonard, who was trying to get behind the circulation desk. "Is it you?"

"No, I'm the manager," Chris said slowly. "Is there a problem?"

"He told me to shut up!"

"I sure did. Come on over here and take a look at her record, while she tells you how incompetent we all are, man," Jim said with glee. He turned to the lady. "See, he already yelled at me before I left my house this morning, so I don't give a flying fuck. He can call me into his office and berate me from here until doomsday, right in front of your face, and that shit would just roll off my back like water, because he's been an unreasonable prick all fucking day, and - guess what - you still aren't going to get your shit waived. Or maybe you are! I don't care!" Jim grinned widely and threw his hands in the air. "I don't care! Shit happens! People lose cheap books and get charged hundreds of dollars for them! People get their cars stolen and then get screamed at because their rides don't fucking come get them even though their rides are supposed to be there when they are! People have to run libraries with half a skeleton staff! And you know what? Nobody cares! Nobody cares! It's fucking great!"

Jim looked at Chris, and fully expected to be sent to wait in his office while he dealt with the woman's fine. To Jim's surprise, though, Chris just sighed and turned to the woman. "Unfortunately, there really is nothing I can do for you, except assure you that he's under some obvious stress, and offer you my supervisor's number. But I do have some notices here that state you've been to four different branches, trying to get these fines removed. I'm not going to deal with it, because these books don't belong to my library-"

"But I returned them here!"

Chris narrowed his eyes. "Ma'am, lower your voice. This is a library." He turned to Arlene, who was practically crouched underneath the return books handtruck. "Arlene. Print these out and look for them on the shelf." He turned back to the patron. "If she doesn't find the books on the shelf, and you choose to escalate your complaint, I'll be happy to call my supervisor for you from the privacy of my office, where you two can work something out yourselves. However, if I ever catch you shouting at my staff for any reason ever again, no matter how rude or unreasonable every person in this building is to you, I will call the Sherriff's department and have you escorted off of County property. We clear?"

For a moment, Jim thought the woman would cut up, but she just looked away and nodded. Chris glared at her until she backed away and found a seat fairly out of the way of other patrons who might want to check out, and then he turned his attention to Jim. "Nobody cares, huh?"

"Nope!" Jim couldn't wipe the dopey grin off his face.

"Right. My office, please?"

"Now? Who's gonna-"

"This won't take long. Just – c'mon, Jim." Chris jerked his head in the direction of his office. "Please."

Jim glanced back at Leonard, who was still standing by the circ desk, chest heaving, teeth grinding. Jim shrugged and followed Chris into the office. If the patrons got their faces ripped off by a rabid librarian, that wasn't gonna be Jim's fault.

When Chris indicated a seat, Jim just smirked and stuck his hands in his pockets. "What. What is it," Jim said, knowing he sounded a bit nasty.

Chris sighed and leaned back in his seat. "I just wanted to apologize for jumping down your throat this morning. Things do happen, and I know that, and I know that neither of you was at fault for the pile-up on the freeway this morning. I had no idea that was happening until Leonard had me search traffic conditions just now. I still believe that you should have some other back up plan in place, but I acknowledge that I was out of line this morning. I apologize."

Jim watched Chris for a moment. He looked haggard, tired. Jim let down his guard and lowered himself to the seat Chris had already invited him to sit in. "I'm sorry I flipped out just now. I'm having some personal issues, outside of the stolen vehicle. Sorry."

Chris snorted. "Yeah, well, I won't comment on that." He offered his hand. "Okay?"

Jim rolled his eyes and shook the offered hand. "Yeah, okay."

"Okay. So. What's your Plan B?"

Jim smirked. "Wish that payday was sooner? I have no idea – I can't even afford bus fare right now, to be honest."

"Oh... Jim. Do you need some cash to get you to payday?" Chris reached for his back pocket, but Jim popped out of his seat, as if he was afraid the money would leap from Chris' fingers and wrap itself around Jim's throat.

"Chris, come on, the fifteenth is Friday. I have today and tomorrow. I think I'll be fine." Jim peeked nervously between the curtains, where he could see Arlene and Leonard discussing the printout of lost library books. "I think we'd better get out there, before that woman starts a scene. Leonard doesn't look like he's in the mood for her shenanigans, you know? And I don't think Arlene's gonna be much help."

Sure enough, before they could get out of the office, the woman was screaming bloody murder, and Leonard was screaming right back. Jim went to the reference desk, unwilling to get in the middle of any of it, and watched the madness unfold. The woman was leaning against the desk, trying to make a grab for the computer screen, and Leonard was holding onto the machine with one hand, and waving her back with the other. Arlene was sitting in a corner, biting her nails and generally being useless. Chris was on the phone, at the opposite end of the desk, with his back to the altercation.

The monitor toppled to the floor on the public side of the desk, narrowly missing the woman's feet. The cord caught on everything it could, dragging all the pens and pencils and scratch paper down to the floor with it.

Everything in the library stopped. The only thing Jim could hear was the ragged breathing of the few people standing near the circ desk, and the uncomfortable shuffling of the little ones whose story had been so rudely interrupted.

Then the crazy bitch tried to run out of the library. "Oh no you don't!" From out of nowhere came crazy ass Tonia, vaulting over the circ desk, still in her giant bomber jacket and bright red knapsack. She landed on top of the disturbed patron, and scrambled around, trying to gather the crazy bitch's limbs together, to keep her from escaping.

Before long, there were ear splitting sirens and flashing lights coming from the parking lot. A group of giant burly men armed with big ass guns burst through the front door, hollering and pointing weapons and turning Jim's insides to fucking jelly.

It took more than an hour to work out the insanity, and to get the story halfway straight, but eventually CrazyAss McNuthouse was hauled away in chains, and Tonia was exonerated for her part in the fight. Chris disappeared to write his own report, the two desk clerks went about their business of pretending that nothing interesting ever happens at work, and Leonard stormed off to bury his head in video orders. Jim looked at the mess on the floor, and went to the loading dock for a pill and a smoke. And if the rest of the day billowed away on the smoky petal of a poppy blossom, well, Jim thought he fucking deserved it.

Where the ride home on Monday had been awkward, the ride home on Wednesday was outright horrific. Neither Jim nor Leonard had seen fit to break the silence at work, not even to clarify whether or not they were still carpooling. Fortunately for Jim, Leonard hadn't protested when Jim automatically followed him in the parking lot.

Unfortunately for Jim, Leonard was taking his precious sweet time getting any damn where. They even stopped at a liquor store, where Leonard silently stalked out of the car without a word to Jim. Jim sat there, dumbfounded. Should he wait? Should he go? Should he see if anyone of the winos in the parking lot had enough change between them for him to catch a bus? But before Jim could begin to make a move towards answering any of his own questions, Leonard was back with a bottle or can covered by a little black bag.

Jim looked at the bag, but Leonard's hand hovered over it, as if silently daring Jim to touch that which clearly did not belong to him. Jim raised his eyes to see if any humor was meant to be read into Leonard's move – none. A zombie would have been more animated. Jim winced slightly and turned his attention to the world outside, and tried not to count the seconds until Leonard finally found the power within himself to start the goddamn motherfucking engine.

After about an eternity and a half, they finally, finally made it to Jim's apartment. Jim jerked the car door open, fully intending to run screaming into the sanctity of his home, but invisible force held him back. After a moment, he turned to Leonard, who was still staring straight ahead. Maybe... maybe they should at least half ass try to clear the air. "Hey," Jim said hoarsely. When it became clear that no response was forthcoming, Jim tried again. "You, uh... you want to come inside for a minute? I don't know how long you've gotta be on the road, but if you need to use the bathroom or anything, you know..." Well. That wasn't awkward at all.

Leonard's right eye twitched once. "I have a long way to go."

Jim swallowed down the vague stirrings of disappointment and tried again. "Yeah, well, I mean, sometimes it makes the drive easier if you're not worried about having to piss yourself on the freeway." He laughed nervously.

"It's getting late." Leonard clutched at the little black bag between them, still staring straight ahead. "Get out of the car."

All of Jim's words of goodwill died in his throat. He ducked his head away from the bright orange glow of the streetlight, trying to hide the flush in his cheeks, and jumped out of the car, slamming the door with as much force as he could muster. He pretended not to hear the car roar away in a plume of rubbery smog, and stormed inside the gate and up the stairs to his place.

Jim flipped the light switch a couple of times, but it refused to come on. "Fuck." He threw his things onto the couch and slammed the front door shut behind him. "Fuck!" Some neighbor woman hollered shut up. Jim yanked the door open again and took as deep a breath as he could. "FUUUUCK!" He slammed the door so hard his books began to topple off the bookshelves. Enraged, Jim grabbed one and threw it as hard as he could. Something broke at the far end of the room, some kind of glass.

Something broke inside of Jim. It was fragile, like glass, but it was something strong, something that kept the torrent of memories dammed inside. Dammed and damned. Memories of his mother's sister driving away in a rage, while he stood, helpless, on PawPaw's rickety old porch. MeeMaw fidgeting nervously while she promised to get him from Uncle Joseph's in the morning – a morning that never came. Uncle Joseph's snarling face when he screamed obscenities at Winona. Winona's tears while she told him why the man and the lady with the funny suitcases had to take him to a special hotel. Frank's face when he told Jim not to let the door hit him on the ass on the way out. Something broke, and the memories escaped with a blood curdling howl. They swept over Jim, dragging him into the tide, until he was drowning in sorrow.

He stumbled into the bedroom, to the nightstand next to his bed, where his meager supply of painkillers lay in their wrinkled baggie. His whole body began to sing, a searing, pulsing cry that could be heard in Heaven and Hell, like the song of a dying angel.

"Stop it." Jim dropped his hand, and the handful of pills scattered to the floor. He heard his own voice, but it didn't sound as if it had come from himself. He turned to see if there was anyone behind him. No one, nothing, save the mirror next to his bedroom doorway. The reflection that stared back at him was haunted, but determined. "Live to see another day." He watched the mouth move in the mirror. He knew they were his words. They had to be. They certainly sounded like they were coming from his mouth. But he never felt his mouth move, never heard the words in his head. The words came to him from across the room. Jim moved towards the mirror, fascinated. Would his reflection say anything else? "Fuck 'em. They don't need you? Then you don't need them. Fuck them." Jim narrowed his eyes at the man in the mirror, as determination began to boil in his blood. A smile crept up Jim's face, slow and angry. The reflection leered back, a comrade in arms.

Fortified, Jim turned away from his reflection and collected the pills from all corners of the room. He dropped them in the bag and sealed it ruefully. He'd save them for another day, when he wasn't feeling so subject to the demons of the heart. Instead, he took a mental inventory of the aches and pains he was actually supposed to be medicating. He found them all sound, and realized that as heavy as his heart and soul were feeling in the deluge, his body was remarkably supple. Pleased that something was going right, Jim stripped to nothing, collapsed on the bed, and was asleep in a matter of seconds.


Chapter 5
Chapter 7

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