Present Day during the beginning of Fall
Attention Officers, there’s a fly in this room. I hate the Diptera — those ugly, buzzing, dungy creatures know all our dirty deeds. Shoot them down. Squish them with the heel of your shoe. Spray them with something fragrant and venomous. Kill every one of those bastard creatures before they flap off with all your precious secrets.
My name is Jackson Blake. I am twenty-four years of age, and of sound...body. My father, bless his hick soul, stuffs dead things for a living. My mother does everything for Jesus. She's a functioning alcoholic. I have an IQ of 115 and an unused degree in Business. I understand, to you, all these facts give me the makings of a proper sociopath.
But the truth is I am dull as dough. A pretty average-grade white guy.
Brown hair with chocolate colored eyes, I stand seventy inches tall. And, it doesn’t matter what I tip the scales at – it’s meaningless water weight.
The time is two AM, and this interrogation room feels a little like Hollywood. Real officers are nothing like the rugged actors we fixate on at the flicker of prime time TV. Though this is place is the perfect scene. With its harsh lighting, dingy gray walls, and lack of interior decoration, this place has potential. Just kidding, it smells like fucking sour milk.
Here I am, drowning in spotlight, beads of sweat trickle down my brow, but I remain optimistic. Maybe your mechanical sun will help me with my base tan. I know there's a strict policy on smoking in enclosed spaces, but I'm going to waive that statute. There's a cigarette that's dangling from my delicate fingertips, and it craves my attention. Besides, I'm doing us all a favor. I'm covering fusty air with the perfume of menthols. If we’re going to repeat these inconvenient formalities, I might as well be comfortable.
I’m fatigued. So, could one of you gentleman bring me another cup of your finest officer-made coffee? The brew almost tastes like a poor man’s Red Eye. I’ve always imagined myself touring villa cafés in Europe, sipping hot drinks while people-watching with my tanned, Norwegian lover, Sven. I guess one of you men in uniform will have to do instead of that fantasy.
What else can I say?
Don’t tell me.
You want me to confess to the demise of Benjamin Preston Rosenfeld the third.
It’s all that anyone blabs on about these days. I can’t seem to go anywhere without ice-cold glares – my usual hangouts are tainted. To me, the unfortunate event happened ages ago, and I wasn't witness. But, if you must know my take on the simple tragedy, we can pretend to be flies on walls. To be honest, being an insect is the only way an average person like you – or me even – could sneak into a Benji affair.
But, even if I was there – and with certainty I was not – I’m sure I could tell you the events that unraveled with boiling accuracy.
I knew Benji better than anyone.
Whirred around people made of manure as if it were my duty.
What else would you expect from me?
After all, I am a fly on the wall, aren’t I?
– xoxo –
I can imagine Benji slouched in an expensive armchair next to a half-full bottle of Bowmore. He’s in the trashed rooftop suite of one of the swankiest hotels in Old City, Philadelphia. Room 1566. It’s his favorite cavity.
The fetid smell of vomit lingers in the air; empty liquor bottles are strewn about on the floor. Careless wine stains and cigarette burns ruin the expensive décor, but these things are only trifles to Benji. He’s spoiled rotten – a vapid city socialite. He may be a dirty creep, but his trust fund ensures that he’s also filthy with financial means.
One glass pane wall of the extravagant lodging shows off Philadelphia’s gorgeous cityscape. Yellow lights dance and blink through the darkened purple town like a Hasbro’s Lite-Brite™. The gargle of the Jacuzzi sloshes its way from an open balcony door, along with the ambiance of a sleepless city. Excited cars zip past and beep on the cobblestone streets below. A few blocks away, there’s a middle-aged woman wearing a purple sweat suit. She's stretching her hamstrings in preparation for an early stroll with her Chien Canne.
The clock reads, four AM.
It’s almost sobering to know that life goes on while the drunkards are blacked out.
“Come on girls, don’t keep me waiting.”
Benji stretches his arms behind his head. Tonight he's royalty. He sits in his boxers, his taut frame exposed. The permanent calligraphy etched onto his chest says, My heart is a traitor. He’s invincible, puffing on his Cohiba Esplendido, flicking the ashes into a delicate vase. His free hand is tucked under the waistband of his underwear, centimeters away from his current organ of thought.
To him, he's earned his night with the "twins." They're not actual twins, nor are they sisters. They’re just the kind of girls that chase after status. They’re the kind of girls that fall in lust with a man carrying a few long greens. At least they're married to their cause.
No, they aren’t prostitutes – they’re gold diggers.
All hail the paper Gods!
From infancy, the twins were taught the divine dogma.
Their church is Louis Vuitton.
Their Holy Water is Belvedere.
Their devout doctrine would gain them access to their promised land – their holy mountain.
The blessed saints would deliver them to the top of the suburban food chain.
Holy, Holy, Holy! Lord Money Almighty!
Their feminine Bible says something like:
- You are no better than the Chanel bag that hangs from your shoulder.
- College is for the bragging rights; Not for knowledge.
- Body fat is the only true evil in this world.
- Love will always wear, but diamonds - they're forever.
- What's the difference between a celery stick and a musician? A celery stick can feed someone.
- Play chaste, but also reserve the option for a "test drive."
These ladies are Benjamin's congratulatory gifts. He knows his days of enjoying all the flavors in the rainbow are running out. He’s accomplished his most important feat by beating them at a game of Strip Poker. He's taken the provisions necessary to remember this night forever. He’s ready to lock the view of his winnings away in the vault of his mind. He’s ready to deposit the image of their curvaceous bodies into his spank bank. And I’m sure he’s reasoned having a ménage à trois is a common occurrence in Europe.
One of the twins' name is Sasha. She gushes as certain young women do, revealing more of her pale, tawny skin. She rushes to unclasp her bra to reveal supple breasts while the other stares at him, aloof. Her name is Isobel, and impassive is the only face she's good at making. Benji snickers to himself, cigar smoke swirling around his gasper as if dancing to a symphony. He removes his hand from under the elastic band of his briefs and grabs a few old playing cards to swat at the polluted air.
“It’s not fair,” is something Sasha might say. She speaks with a winning smile, naked and tossing away her intimate things, “I say you’re a cheater.”
“It’s my celebration,” Benji replies. “We all know you have to let the birthday boy win.”
“And why’s that?”
“I thought house rules don’t apply when you’re gambling?”
“Only when it’s for money. Sex isn’t money, is it?”
“It's obvious you’re not a woman.” Isobel's face remains expressionless. She pauses as she fumbles around to unhook her own bra.
“I think it’s time for a proper present. Don’t you, Sasha?”
Sasha nods with a flash of excitement.
She’s been dying for this moment.
“Is it really your birthday, Benji?” she asks, raising her voice to sound as if she had breathed in helium.
“No.” Benji laughs. He grinds the cigar into a decorative plate. “You girls are a slice of heaven.”
“But we’re not in heaven, Benji,” Isobel says. “At least, not yet.”
She tosses her top at him, a tease of what is to come. Benji’s distracted by the jiggle of her umber bosom. He reaches to catch the flying lingerie, but his eager hands miss. Instead, the undergarment clings to his face like a frightened octopus lost in an Asian restaurant.
“We have something you might like.” Sasha stations herself in front of his chair, showing off the lean, delicate lines of her ridge. She giggles and dances as she bends over to gather a pair of crumpled jeans that lay settled on the floor.
Benji coos as he watches her rummage around through the pockets. Too quickly for Benji, she yanks out a worn plastic bag containing three tablets.
“Swallow one of these and the real party begins.” Sasha shakes the pouch. Pride bubbles in her squeaky voice.
The pills are neon technicolored. Shaky black lines give them glowering eyes and manipulate their mouths into mischievous smiles. They’re amusing to Benji. They look whimsical - like something from a pedophile’s candy store and glisten as the light catches them in the dim room.
“Molly? I haven’t…” Benji pulls the loose underwear from his face. “I haven’t done that in a while.”
“These are similar to Molly,” Isobel says. “But they pack more of a punch.”
“They’ll take you to the pearly gates.” Sasha struts her way towards him.
“What makes you think I’d want to go there?” Benji raises an eyebrow. He leans back into the cushioning of his chair, throwing his hands behind his head.
He can’t hide his entitlement.
“Isn’t it what we all dream of?” Isobel asks. “All good little boys and girls get to go to heaven and dance among the angels.”
“But I’m definitely not good,” Benji smirks.
“We can pretend,” Sasha whispers. She settles herself on his lap as if he was Saint Nick and she wished for a pony. “We can be your angels.”
“Trust me,” Sasha straddles Benji, her voice honeyed, leaning ever closer to adorn him with nibbles and gentle kisses on his neck. “Don’t you hear the harps playing? It’s a song just for us.”
“Give me one of your magical pills,” Benji sighs. “And I’ll tell you what I hear.”
Sasha places two of the pills on her tongue. Benji stares up at her, his eyes widening, his mouth watering, his mind racing with perverse thoughts.
He’s seizing the day.
He’s not sailing into the seas of proper adulthood without a fight, and as Sasha gives him a hot, wet, empathogenic kiss, he has a moment of sadness.
He doesn’t want things to change as rapidly as they are.
Sasha's lips are soft against his. Her tongue massages the inside of his refined palate, probing, studying the anatomy of his expensive mouth. She runs her fingers through his sandy colored hair, and he forgets his gloomy thoughts. One of the pills slips behind his stark-white veneers and Benji winces. He’s turned off at the sandpaper texture. He jerks away, choking down the rough drug, chasing it down with whiskey. Isobel ice façade melts and she laughs, swiveling her hips as she moves closer to join in.
“It tastes like shit,” she says. “But it’ll blow you away.”
Benji coughs. “How long does it take to work?”
“Half an hour.”
“That’s the problem with the Millennials,” Isobel says. “We’re high-speed Internet addicts. We want instant gratification, and we get cranky when we don’t receive what we’ve put on Santa’s list.”
She walks towards him slowly.
He can tell by her eyes, she's praising the paper gods for the creation of the specimen in front of her. She moves like fluid behind her creaky-voiced friend and reaches out to stroke Sasha's silky black hair.
“Let’s keep ourselves occupied, then.”
Benji’s thin, pink lips stretch into a mischievous grin. Tonight is his, and he longs to order one of the girls to pull out a particular treat, something he was eager to pack away in one of his expensive suitcases. He wants to live out one last fantasy. In fact, he's taken note of the moral that’s often themed in Internet pornography:
You should always be prepared – an X-rated occasion can always present itself.
- xoxo -
"You like that, you little bitch?”
There’s boredom in Isobel's voice.
I imagine she watches a moth zip around one of the fancy lamps.
Perverted flies, we all would like to think these mysterious drugs turn good ole Benji into a raging Porn Star. A regular Ron Jeremy, full of masculinity and white rapper swag. We’d also like to believe that they’re going at it hardcore:
Every position your filthy, voyeuristic mind can imagine.
But, I’m here to reveal the insurmountable truth, and the truth states that Benji Rosenfeld was a lousy lover. In fact, his “special treat” is a sex toy, which he’s nicknamed Miss Mann.
I’ve heard Lady-dom is huge in Europe, and for my sweet simpletons who can’t put two-and-two together – the toy is a floppy piece of silicone.
It’s an eight-inch rocket.
There they are in those luxury satin sheets. Sasha is too high to take part while Benji is on his back; legs propped up on Isobel's bony shoulders. He looks shiftless as the poor, uninterested, and intoxicated girl is failing to get the hang of her newfound big black phallus. There they are, amidst the dull croaking and creaking of the bed, when Sasha sobers from her high and alerts the room with a shriek.
“Your nose is bleeding.”
“What?” Benji pushes himself away from the still-hip-thrusting Isobel, placing a finger under his nostril.
“Oh my god, your nose,” Isobel finally focuses on the man whom she’s barely pegged for the last half hour.
The satin sheets slide against Benji’s naked solid frame as he rushes towards the bathroom, the lube-stained fabric waving elegantly, clinging to his athletic build. It’s begging him to stay in its safety.
“Fuck,” he grunts while his perfect, pedicured feet smack against the cold tile of the darkened bathroom.
With a flick of a switch the bathroom lights come to life. Benji slaps at the sink’s knob, causing the faucet to scream out with a hiss.
He watches as blood drips into the basin, the deep red droplets turning into translucent streaks of deep red when caught by the water.
“You okay?” Isobel offers the halfhearted question as she tries to tame the artificial dong that keeps bouncing around at her every touch.
“Yeah.” Benji hunches over the porcelain bowl. He reaches over to rip a few squares of toilet paper from its holder.
Now, here’s where I think the details get a little fuzzy.
I’m sure Benji steals a few glances at himself in the mirror. He admires his rugged, Anglo-Saxon nose, angular jaw line that artists dream to sculpt, and deep-set eyes.
Those eyes are lady killers.
They’re bedroom eyes.
You know they say bathroom lighting is the best kind of lighting – it’s flattering. The soft golden glow radiates dull skin; thins portly faces and enlarges beady eyes, but even still, Benji must look a little silly with balled up tissue shoved up his nostrils.
As he’s honoring his beauty, I imagine his high starts to set in. Maybe the fluorescent lights become like strobe lights, blinking on and off as a breeze cools his face. Maybe his good nostril starts filling up with the smell of Chlorine. For all I know, maybe the room begins to spin around and around while the Devil drunkenly sings Gershwin - I don’t claim to know details.
Whatever it may be, the neon pill is taking effect.
Benji is confused, but remains uninterested.
At least until a silver-haired man pops his head into the bathroom. The man carries a worn clipboard; sunglasses are tangled on top of his wiry hair like a makeshift crown. He wears thigh-high gym shorts, and sports two important and distinct tan lines – stark white panda eyes from years of sunscreen avoidance and a depressing, pale line where his wedding ring once was.
“Better not be playing with yourself in here,” the man says.
“Coach?” Benji swings around with widened eyes.
“What are you waiting for, Benji? It’s time for the dive of your life.” “But coach,” Benji adjusts to this situation. “I haven’t practiced all summer.”
“Yes, you have,” Coach says, “Every day for months. Your forward somersault is flawless. What’s gotten into you?”
“Nothing, I guess I’m a bit nervous.”
“Well, get over it, boy. We can beat those Seaside bastards.”
“What if I mess up, Coach?”
“That’s your heart talking,” Coach says. He places a fatherly hand on Benjamin’s nude shoulder. “You might think it knows best, but your heart is a traitor. You have instinct, kid. Follow that.”
Benji offers a nervous smile, inching his way towards double doors that have appeared. His bare, white, callipygous formation, in all its glory, jiggles with skill as he presses forward. Benji thinks those doors lead to the pool where a diving board awaits.
Drugs do interesting things to people.
Drugs do bad things to people.
But no matter how many scrambled brains and surgeon general warnings we receive, they hardly ever prevent anyone from huffing, blowing, snorting, smoking, swallowing, shooting. Drugs make life interesting.
Drugs are fun.
The truth is, Benji’s having a bad reaction.
Benji’s tripping balls.
Rather than peacock his way to the pool, in reality Benji is marching his way to the edge of the rooftop balcony, but he knows no difference. He swears he’s engulfed by the smell of chlorine. He can feel the humidity of the warmed pool kiss his skin; he can hear the undying excitement of the crowd. He knows that there’s only one shot at this, and he thinks his coach is right. He can never listen to his heart. He’d much rather use his brain.
Benji. Benji. Benji...
The crowd roots him on, shouting – no – chanting in unison from bleachers that float from above. Benji pushes open the doors, taking in the view of the smooth surface of the pool. He waves to his admiring fans. He’s a superstar. They’re going wild. He readies himself, lifting his arms in the air. He has to wow them. He has to win this for the team.
He gulps and takes a running start.
BENJI. BENJI. BENJI!
He hears the multitudes’ voices boom louder than ever now. They’re feasting on his hubris. As a true exhibitionist, he’s getting off on the fact he can dazzle them with his show.
“Benji!” The twins scream in horror, living in reality. They run after him on the rooftop, naked, waving their arms at him, but their attempt to save him is fruitless.
As Benji plummets toward the pale blue waters below, he smiles to himself. His mind is lost. He thinks last minute that he’s going to do a forward three-and-a-half somersault tuck.
He wants to amaze his observers.
He wants to make coach proud.
He wants to be somebody.
- xoxo -
They failed to mention in his obituary that Benji would be immortalized as a dusky splotch on the city’s sidewalk. He certainly left a smashing impression on the woman in the lavender sweat suit when he used her prized pooch for a bull’s eye. He dived head first, right on top of the miserable pup. It’s such a tragedy. They say your quarter life crisis is a killer, and Benji was always a little too literal.
How did I do, officers? Did I get into the head of Benji enough for you? You see, I read the police report; I saw some of the raw footage from Benji's hidden camera. I told you I knew him and his crowd better than anyone.
But I swear I'm not guilty. I know I put the nails in my coffin when I showed up to his funeral wearing my favorite ensemble. Large sunglasses and a black T-shirt with those cute gravestones that read Good Riddance. His poor mother cried and his father threatened me with physical harm, but I was escorted out before any of that transpired. It wasn’t my finest hour. It was a fashion statement, albeit a poor one, but I swear I’m better now.
Officers please, pull up a seat; grab something to eat. Let’s clear the air. Allow me to share my side of the story. Let me talk about the friends that I made that summer.
I loved them.
I abhorred them.
I aspired to be just like them.
I conspired against them.
They changed me for the better.
They altered me for the worse.
And always watch out for the pretty ones – they’re insufferable.
Those are the ones who are spoiled rotten. They always blubber on and on about how their daddies never loved them. They expect the most and are often gifted with more, but still remain famished.
They have no morals.
They have no values.
They have no tomorrow, and yet, they still hate today.
All they have is their Paper Gods, silly dramas, chic fashions, and magazine bodies. All they have are champagne flutes and first-class trips to the Côte d’Azur. All they have is the world, and all they want are their designer drugs.
All they will ever love are their fucking designer drugs.
Phone Conversation #1: Jackson and Mrs. Blake
Mama Blake: Jackson, I've been thinking about you. I've been thinking of you and your life of sin. Repent my sweet, beautiful baby.
Jackson: You're drunk, mom.
Mama Blake: There once was a young man who ran away.
Jackson: I had to leave. I had no choice.
Mama Blake: Falsely accused by his home in disarray.
Mama Blake: He hoped that the fire that burned would turn chilly.
Jackson: Drink some water.
Mama Blake: So he packed a few things and took shelter in Philly.
Mama Blake: But oh, how he didn't know he was in for a scare.
Jackson: A Scare?
Mama Blake: Wrapping himself into the sinful web of privileged affairs.
Jackson: Mom, you're a real piece of work, you know that? You're the one that should be on medication - not me. You're insa-
The phone clicks off, and the dial tone plays.
Months Earlier at the Start of Summer
It all started with Rusty Perris, my childhood friend. He sat next to me, engulfed in a musky cloud of designer cologne and maybe sporting a hard-on. He was intoxicated in alcohol and lust, as he received a lap dance from some young, topless brunette who looked like she might belong to a well-off, sophisticated family.
I was overheated in my cardigan sweater. The taste of sweat overwhelmed my lips. I sat in silence, hugging the arm of an old Italian Leather Chesterfield sofa, trying not to gawk, rubbing my bottle of medication like a pair of rosary beads.
Dumm & Voler Corp.
A healthy life is life to its fullest.
QTY: 100 (now, 98)
Take one tablet daily to treat disorder.
I wanted to gulp down another pill, but I knew it wouldn't do much good. Those little tablets were still under trial, and so far, they were acting as my saviors - my haven. Maybe I had grown too dependent on them, but usually, just running my finger over the smooth surface of the bottle brought me some semblance of comfort. Unfortunately, the skinny tube couldn't liberate me from the Beaumont's uninhibited soirée.
I was a guest in their mansion, hunkered down, chewing my nails down to their quicks in the modern, yet semi-barren study hidden away in a corner of the basement.
I had scurried away, vanished from the young crowd with purpose.
I did my best to eschew the shindig's hosts – the charming Beaumont siblings.
I sat breathing in polymer – indulging in the hydrocarbons of fresh paint. My ears twitched to the sounds of muffled, up-tempo music booming and vibrating the walls of the unused quarters.
The door swung opened.
The roar of the party rushed in like a tsunami. I could feel the little hairs inside my cochlea becoming distressed.
Rusty and his plus one barged into the room in a hurry. They stood in front of me, and I swore I heard their biological clocks ticking like atom bombs.
Gratuitous sex scene starting in 10, 9, 8.
“We just wanted to check on you,” Rusty announced, drunk as a lord, while his femme de la nuit stood next to him sporting raccoon eyes.
They exchanged smiles. She bit her lip. He pushed aside a few stray pieces of the dark, messy curls that fell from his man-bun. He flashed a lecherous grin. They eye-fucked in silence; their loins were bursting with passion.
"I'm fine. I really -"
Before I could finish my reply, the bomb went off.
It was torture. I was forced to listen to the smacking of their mouths connecting, the clanking of an unraveling belt; obliged to watch their clumsy pre-sex wrestling match. I felt nausea bubble in my stomach. I couldn’t help but glance at that poor drunken girl’s rosy, well-rounded tits.
Rusty had only met her a few hours before. She was the one he was planning to hump - the girl who had Cocaine. I whacked away a gnat; craned my neck around to avoid eye contact with either of the lovers, but the girl was gyrating on top of him like a broken washing machine. Soon, she lost her balance and collapsed on top of me. I shut my eyes tight, wanting nothing to do with her bare flesh, holding my breath; quite terrified to know I was being grazed by a runaway nipple.
“For Christ’s sake, Rusty, I’m still in here,” I was sweating. The couch groaned under my weight as I shifted my weight, pushing the topless drunk girl back over to my friend.
“Sorry,” Rusty's lover acknowledged me with a snicker.
“My name is Abby. What’s yours?”
“You’re sweaty, Jackson.”
“Please,” I said. “Put away your tits.”
My eyes shot to rusty, “I thought you were checking up on me?”
Abby, still unsteady, climbed back on top of him. Globs of melting mascara sealed her eyes shut, but she still managed to find herself straddling Rusty’s lap, allowing his head to become lost between her ample bosom.
“Give me your cigarettes,” I demanded, turning away from them. Rusty responded in a voice that was muffled by boob. He still heard my request. Like a true friend, he reached into the pockets of his jeans, pulled out a worn, lime green box and tossed it on my lap— all while having his mouth stuffed full of tongue.
He was a skilled young man.
MADE WITH 100% ORGANIC TOBACCO
100% ADDITIVE-FREE NATURAL
MENTHOL MELLOW TASTE
I picked up the battered container and grew disturbed by the sound of buttons pinging across the room.
Abby had ripped off Rusty’s shirt.
Abby was on a mission and didn't care what obstacles were in her way.
Abby maintained a healthy sexual appetite and was a goddamned modern day feminist.
I lost the battle. It was time for me to leave.
I escaped out into the hallway. The party was down the way, past the walls of the dim corridor. A strobe light pierced through the dark atrium like lightening, splashing droplets of color over darkened bodies.
The Beaumont siblings knew how to throw a party.
It reeked of beer and weed; I heard the clinking of bottles – cheers. Laughter punctured through the air, but was muffled by the high decibels of music. The guests were happy – drinking and dancing like imbeciles.
I hated every moment of it.
I took a deep breath unsure if I should focus more on the ambiance of the party or the sounds of crashing genitalia behind me.
Both were depressing.
“What’s going on in there?” I heard.
Startled, I left the door ajar and met eyes with a suave blond.
I met Benji.
He stared at me with curious eyes. His one arm was slung around a pretty bimbo with jet-black hair.
Her name was Sasha.
She rested her head on Benji's shoulder and watched the live peep show progressing in the study. Benji continued to watch me; his head cocked to the side. He moved closer with a sheepish grin, along with his date, positioning himself under the single pale light that illuminated the empty artery of the basement. I studied him for a moment: his sultry blues looking me over; his free manicured hand gripped the neck of a bottle of Jamison.
I rolled my eyes.
“Yeah, what's going on?” Sasha's voice stung my ears.
“Nothing,” I spoke fast, shutting the door behind me.
“Why weren't we invited to this private affair?” Benji asked.
"The real party’s in there," Sasha added.
“You're mistaken,” I said. “There’s nothing in there to see.”
“Do you think they'd mind company?” he raised an eyebrow.
“Is it that kind of party?"
There was a pause. Benji took a swig of his whiskey.
“Who are you?”
“A figment of your imagination,” I pushed past them. Sasha gave me a displeased look, but I didn't care.
I just wanted a cigarette.
I hugged Rusty’s box of cancer in one hand, my medication in the other, and continued down the corridor.
“It’s a little too hot for a sweater, isn’t it?” Benji called after me, but I ignored him. I was too busy waltzing through the night’s drunks.
“You know," Sasha shouted within earshot. "You should meet my best friend, Isobel."
"Oh yeah?" Benji yelled back. "Is she as rude as the guy in the cardigan sweater?"
"No, she'd love to spend some quality time with you.”
- xoxo -
I lumbered through the kitchen and to the back door lost in thought. They were racing in my head, each vying for my full attention.
Shame followed me to this city, and it shared bed space on Rusty's rickety futon.
I hated all of Rusty’s friends.
Why do flames move so quickly?
A headache was forming.
The twinge of withdrawal was coming on.
I craved a cigarette.
I felt trapped in that house. Locked away in a dungeon, wailing for a savior. But, there would be no Prince Charming. There would be no hero. It was up to me to make my grand escape.
When I found myself at the backdoor of the kitchen, I gripped the icy, pewter handle to the back door. I felt excitement tickle my senses. I turned the circular piece of shiny metal, my lips curving into a certain smile. I felt the wind begin to brush against my face, the outside air whispering pleasantries to me.
I had made it.
I had won the battle.
I had finally received my liberation.
“There you are,” I heard.
I knew that voice. I recognized the danger that oozed out from the familiar tone.
I didn’t want to look behind me.
A slender hand pushed the door shut, an arm intertwined with mine, pulling me away from my lifeline.
“Candy,” I said as an actor faking enthusiasm. “I was just going to smoke a cigarette.”
“Stop being vacant,” she said, her voice throaty and husky, commanding my attention. "No one will like you if you're trapped inside your head all night."
"Where are we going?" I trailed behind her.
The talk around town about her was all the same. They say if you had to know anyone in the urban fishbowl known as Philadelphia, it’d be Candice Olivia Kane. Her father was a self-made millionaire – her mother was old money. The Philebrity wasn't just an American princess - she was a goddess.
I maintained a healthy fear of both her howl and her sting.
My intimidation dictated the events that followed. I allowed her to escort me to one of the powder rooms, decorated with elegant wallpaper and shiny, expensive brass. I studied the room’s ornamental artistry. Being oblivious was my survival. It was better to appear blameless than open my mouth in guilt-ridden protest.
“Sit,” Candy’s slender fingers placed a certain amount of pressure on my shoulders. I gave in, almost collapsing on a toilet seat covered with fox fur.
I felt like I was a child who had done something wrong.
I blurted out, “I’m sorry.”
“You hid. You ran away, and you hid," she stared at me pie-eyed, her fierce, mint-green eyes almost hidden by enlarged pupils.
"What does it matter?"
"Do you know how that made me look, Jacky? Do you know how embarrassing – how rude it was for you just to disappear?"
"What about Rusty?”
“What about him?”
“He disappeared, too.”
“He’s not a stranger,” Candy glared at me, brushing rose-gold strains of hair out of her bronzed face.
I started rubbing my bottle of medication.
“If you’re not going to share them,” Candy grabbed for the bottle, but I was too quick. "Put those pills away."
“What did I tell you?” She said. “Meet people, mingle and talk about exciting things. Don’t tell them where you’re from, don’t fondle your meds, don’t tell them about your taxidermist family, and don’t say anything stupid. You’re strange enough as it is.”
I looked at her for a beat, and with anger, I spoke. I said, “You're not my mother.”
"No, I'm not. But, I have a reputation to uphold, and you’re not going to ruin it,” Candy reached into her hand purse, unscathed by my reaction. She fished out a pendant sized metal canister. Light reflected off of it and, for a second, a flash blinded me.
I bit back bitter words.
“What were you doing all this time?” Candy’s forehead wrinkled, perplexed, as she looked at me through the mirror’s reflection. “You’re drenched in sweat. Take off that cardigan.”
She opened up the canister and poured the contents out onto the bathroom countertop.
“It’s Dolce,” I said, wiping droplets from my forehead. "I think I look good in it. It's not that hot, so…"
I was lying. It was hot. I was miserable. The only honest thing I said was that the sweater was, in fact, Dolce. I acquired it at the thrift shop on South Fifth Street.
I wiped my hands on my jeans.
Candy pulled out an old library card from her purse – because one should always read. She used it to organize her pile of powder. She took pride in it, scooping and shuffling her stimulants in a single, perfect line fit for her royal nostrils. There was something strange and exquisite about the process.
There was something so glamorous about her – the warm, golden glow of her fawn skin, the bounciness of her long, luxurious blonde locks, the bold rouge painted on her pouty lips. The bathroom lighting settled on her as if she were on stage. There was something special about her though I couldn't pinpoint exactly what it was.
She looked like a certain nameless celebrity. They had the same obnoxious swan-like neck, and killer legs (that Candy showed off in high-heeled Italian boots and the world’s shortest, yet somehow, classy mini-skirt.) But yet, to my delight, the gods did have some good graces. Unlike her celebrity doppelgänger, Candy Kane was as flat as an exemplary nun. Even so, the heiress was beautiful – an all-American product.
I was attracted to her danger as any gay man would be.
I wanted to impress her.
"Was he fucking her?" her voice softened.
"Rusty," she said searching in her purse. "Was he fucking that girl? What was her name? Shelly?"
"Abby," I corrected her with a sigh. "How would I know what they were doing?"
This was a lie.
"I don't know," her voice was harsh again, and she glanced over at me. There was a crisp fifty-dollar bill in her hand. She began to roll it up. "You should just know."
Our conversation paused as Candy bent over to inhale the drug. I heard a loud snort, followed by a dainty sniff, and when she finished the deed, she looked back up into the mirror, evaluating me as a juror rubbing her rosy-tinted nose.
“You know if you cut out hydrogenated fats and sodas, you could lose a good thirty pounds.”
“What?” My voice dropped an octave.
“That’s why you’re wearing the cardigan, right?”
“It’s Dolce & Cabana.”
“Uh huh,” she hummed. “Have you ever even had a boyfriend, Jacky?”
“Where’d that come from?” I grunted, perspiring some more, coughing up some nervous laughter, “Have I ever had a boyfriend? It’s the 21st century.”
The truth was, I was a virgin.
Candy walked over to me without words. She shooed me from my position on the porcelain throne. The queen needed to take over.
“I help people,” she said while opening the toilet seat. “And it's no secret you struggle with your self-confidence. You have that written all over your face. It’s not an ugly face, you know.”
Candy sat down on the toilet, ready to do her business.
“You’re Rusty’s friend, and I trust his judgment,” she said overtop the hiss of her draining bladder. “That’s why I agreed to help you. He cares about what happens to you. So, my first piece of humanitarian advice is that it’s best to fall into healthy habits while you’re in your twenties. What’s going to happen when you turn forty, Jacky?”
“I’ll be a house,” I thought.
“You’ll be a McMansion.” Amusement played on her face. Candy’s bladder was empty. She glanced at me, pulling a few sheets of toilet paper from the holder. I looked away.
I imagined flames engulfing her.
“Thank you for your encouragement,” I forced.
She flushed the toilet and it groaned.
“This isn’t the coal mining district anymore, Jacky. Your mountain days are over.”
“I don’t know anyone here.”
“Tonight is about networking,” Candy turned to me with a smile that seemed genuine. “We’re going to get you off of Rusty’s couch and into a place of your own in no time.”
“That would be nice.”
“I’d invite you to shack up with Madison and me, but, unfortunately, we have Avery.” Candy's face turned sour and for a second I was happy it wasn't because of me. “I can’t stand her, but she's Madison's other best friend.”
“Madison Beaumont and her brother, Teddy, are great resources in this city - besides me, of course. That’s why I want you to meet them. They can help you.”
“I don't know how they could help me," I said.
Candy moved back to the mirror, and I could see her face turn sour again. She shuffled around in her purse, “Where is your drive? Where is your ambition? Do you really think working on the janitorial staff at Morning Wood is a suitable career for a twenty-four-year-old?”
She whispered to herself, “I swear, you can take some boys out of the country, but his small-town mind refuses to grow.”
“Morning Goods Café?” I corrected her.
“It’s called Morning Goods Café, not Morning Wood. That’s a gay joint.”
“It doesn’t matter,” she rolled her eyes and pulled out powdered concealer from the purse. “If it’s not a Starbucks, there’s no reason for anyone to care.”
“It’s not that bad. I like working there. It’s – it’s like home.”
“My name's not Jacky.”
“If you liked home so much, why did you come here?”
She wasn’t looking for a response, which was good because I didn’t know how to answer her question.
I left because I ran away.
I watched Candy’s reflection in the mirror as she powdered her nose, her forehead again scrunched up, strengthening the fine lines that were forming.
She shook her head.
“You might not appreciate it right now, Jacky, but you'll thank me when you're wearing season-appropriate clothing and dating rich.”
“I’m not looking to date rich.”
Candy glared at me.
"But I'll appreciate any help you can give me," I said.
“Then it's settled." Candy smiled again, stuffing her things back into her purse and snapping it shut. She turned to face me. "We're friends. Now, are you ready to mix and mingle?”
“You’ll absolutely love Teddy. He’s gay too, you know.” Candy opened the powder room door, allowing me to scamper by her into the hallway. “He can fill you in on all the best hotspots. Maybe he can even help you end your perpetual singularity.”
“Oh yeah? Is he cute?” I asked, feeling the tension between us relax.
“Oh, sweetie he’d never go for you,” she chuckled.
“But maybe he knows someone who has a friend.” Candy offered me a coy expression. "Remember, tonight's keyword is networking."
She winked at me, and I felt dead inside.