May ended and June started, and life continued pretty much as it had before the Snowborne concert, with exceptions.
Scott had asked what had happened, and I'd simply shrugged and lied, said I stood around a party for a bit looking lame and then took a cab home. Because I'd called in sick to work the next day it was a very poor excuse, but Scott just called me a wuss who needed his beauty sleep and left it at that. He felt guilty anyways for leaving me and not going dancing to hang out with a couple of girls he described as "a wee bit emotionally unstable from the get-go", so it wasn't talked about overly much.
Mike was a problem, but Mike was now just a constant, low-level pissy pest that I was learning to ignore. Since he was now downright malicious, there was nothing else for it. He got to me at some level, of course, but I'd never, ever show it after the first time he needled me.
Sunday, when I'd come back into work, he'd been waiting for me at the bar, eyes gleaming with confrontational glee.
"So." He purred, leaning on his elbows and starring at me as I logged into the computerized register, "Have a good time Friday night?"
Oh, Shit. I thought with a mental sigh. I had DEFINTELY been seen. Here we go.
"Did you really let yourself get fucked by a rock star? Really?"
Picking up a pad and a pencil, I made like I didn't hear him as I scanned the room to make sure all the tables were set and everything was ready to go for the post-church tea crowd. Days like this, when Scott and I had different shifts, were going to be the worst, I could tell.
"The whole hotel knows you're just a slut now, you know. Did he make you call him daddy? Did he give you a little nose candy for your trouble, pretty?"
This is where he hit a nerve, and I started to sketch angry faces with exaggerated concentration to not stab him in the eye with my pencil.
"So am I not cool enough for your ass? Huh? You'll only open it up for fucking celebrities, Yeah?" He snorted. "Whore."
I snapped. "This from someone who's fucked half the damn kitchen staff and every scabby dancer in every club in town?" I kept my voice light and contemptuous, even though I wanted to screech at him. "At least he didn't try to fuck me on cardboard boxes and pretend it was an appealing come on, Mike." Sleaze ball, I mentally added, and pushed off from the bar to take my first order. I was almost trembling with rage.
Mina may have helped my guilt complex, but it'd only added a layer of conscious control, not really deleted the sense of both tackiness and failure.
She seemed to have made some personal inroads, however, and had admitted to me she never let Scott's flirting become a conscious issue because she saw him as something of an ass man.
"He may want me," She argued, when we sat down to talk about it one night in a coffee shop, "But he wants, like, every chick, for god's sake. Pick a non-super-Christian cheerleader he hasn't screwed, seriously."
"Nooooo." I shook my head. "You were always different. You he wants not just to lay. He's wanted you since middle school."
"He hasn't asked me anything."
Holding up all ten fingers, I started to tick them down. "He asks you to dances,"
"As friends!" She protested, and stopped. "I mean, I think as friends."
"He invites you to anything he can," tick, "Nights that were supposed to be violent-action-gore-fest movie nights suddenly involve chick flicks so you'll come, he brought you all your homework when you were sick, when your grandma died he bought you chocolates. When your car broke down he picked you up, took you to school, even took you to the mall. You call and he walks out of dates on girls to take them."
"I didn't KNOW that's why he did those things!" She wailed, "I didn't! Shit, shit shit."
I was silent, and she chewed on a nail fretfully.
"I still don't think about him that way." She said to me, somewhat petulantly.
"But could you?"
"No fucking idea. Shit." Mina finished her mocha latte and started in on mine. "You suck, Ethan." She said without malice.
I grinned. "And well, I'm told."
"EWWWWWWWW. Wait, that's kinda hot." And the subject was dropped while she gleefully made me regret any sexually tantalizing comment I may ever make in her presence. But suddenly we were a constant rollicking threesome much more then ever before, Scott was once again a puppy at her beck and call and magically didn't seem to be interested in other girls now that she was always there. There was also now a light of consideration in her eyes that was cute. Calculating and a bit scary, but still cute.
Personally, I was trying to take Mina's suggestion of not running away from connection seriously, but it was a lot harder then it sounded. We'd go out and she'd poke me to talk to cute boys/men she swore up and down were eyeing me, but I still thought she was full of it. And, really I didn't have the greatest smooth-talking-small-talk skills that were necessary for successful flirting in clubs. When guys approached me(I swore Mina paid some of them to do it) while I was standing around waiting for her in the bathroom, and I did what I always had done, looked at the guy and at his smile and didn't even hear what he said, muttered something senseless and bolted across the room.
But at night, on my computer, I was finding it easier to talk to people. I was on an art community board called "Artborg", and I really enjoyed talking to the other members there. It felt good to have people to share my art with who were supportive and warm, but I could also not feel overwhelmed by the situations like I often did when I exhibited or showed my stuff to real live people.
Sort of a pain, since the computer at my house was not very speedy and I had to go Kinko's to scan my stuff, but it seemed worth it. Hearing praise in person made me just want to duck away, but online it was easier. Simpler but yet somehow warmer. (This could be projection) I liked it, and felt more confident of my abilities and my techniques due to my online interactions.
On Artborg I met a user named Bluegreen, who turned out to be a Brian in Chicago who was only a year younger then me. His own very cartoon oriented work was good but inconsistent, and his admiration for my work was flattering, if sometimes overwhelming in his expressed desire to draw like me and jealousy of getting into Parsons. He took my criticisms well, and it was clear pretty quickly we were flirting, especially after he posted a very sexual X-men picture of Wolverine and Magneto and brazenly asked me what I thought of it. Not quite my thing, but definitely hot, and I told him so.
This also seemed simpler and warmer. The distance made it easier and a lot less overwhelming then face-to-face to warm up to him, since I was a better typer then speaker. We talked so consistently over just a couple of weeks, he started to seem like a good friend.
He was an online junkie, he admitted, been constantly plugged in since he was in elementary school, and his ease with the medium showed. But it was a bit weird sometimes. We'd exchanged pictures a week before, and he was cute; skinny, blond, and sharp-featured, with what looked like a great goofy smile and expressive eyes. I'd sent him a cropped face picture from senior year, from some swim team group shot, and he'd just sorta written back, `nice'. Not much reaction, but that was okay.
We swapped some guarded stories of our non-existent love-lifes, and he told me about a bad experience with his sister's bisexual boyfriend, who he had a major thing for. It was like Mike in a lot of ways with more emotion involved, and I felt for him. He asked me if I had ever really like anyone and it didn't work out, and I was feeling honest; I hated how much it was on my mind.
Yeah, a guy in his 20s...he was really hot. It was just sorta a quickie thing, only one night.
You fell for him?
Rrrrrrr that made me twitch. Fell for him. Guess I did. Yeah, sorta. He was incredible, just... really cool. Really smooth.
It was hot?
Not really over him?
Guess not. It's stupid of me, sorry. Didn't know him at all.
Sorry it didn't work out.
There wasn't any it could have, really, I thought, regretting telling him all this. I was an idiot, and a dork.
I'm kinda glad, too, tho. I found myself blushing at that.
Brian was very sweet.
One night, after I had gotten home from a long day at work and was sitting around in my red jammie pants and white sleep shirt at my mother's 5-year-old PC in the `office'(third bedroom with tons of books and a desk), we started to talk about music.
Snowborne is so good! Brian enthused, and I sorta winced.
Because, well, I was listening to Snowborne at that very moment, as Zane's voice started to yell the chorus of their latest single on the local rock station that didn't play oldies. Line them up let them fall Line them up is that all? Line them up, show me how... Oh, the weirdest coincidences.
Not that I avoided their music, which would be pretty hard in the last month if you liked certain radio stations or places. I was also really learning to not get all wispy and over-analytical every time they came on or, say, Scott brought up the awesomeness of the concert or blasted their music in his car. He seemed to connect it with Mina starting to respond to him, so it had extra special memories now.
It ashamed me both that I was still consistently masturbating to an image of Zane in my mind, of his torso and lips, my mouth around his cock and the sound of his voice. I even masturbated for a while to his music directly, but it embarrassed me too much somehow, like I was getting obsessed. It didn't help that I went through a stage afterwards that I finally stopped, say, last week, and just drew him whenever my mind would drift or I was doodling.
But I needed to get over it, and Snowborne WAS very good.
Yeah! I wrote back, They are. Saw them in concert last month, it was really tight.
You did? Jellus! They're coming here in a week, but none of my friends want to see them on a school night. Geeks.
Sucks. I commiserated.
Why don't you come out here for the concert? It's not that far a drive! 4 hours? Could you take off work?
I guess, but I don't have a car. I couldn't decide if the idea was thrilling or scary. Whatever it was, I didn't really want to take the time off and lose that money to spend it on a concert. Except...
You could bring the friends you were telling me about. Don't they have cars?
I could watch Zane sing again.
And meet Brian! I really did really want to meet him... Except what if it sucked?
Don't really have the money right now. I'm a wuss.
Ok. Just an idea. Hey, did you finish that cool fantasy pic you were doing? Want 2 C!
We chatted mindlessly for a bit more and I signed off when I heard my mom come home from tutoring. There was a lot of guilt just saying no to visiting him, but, I'm not sure I wanted to meet him in person. I figured all I'd do is disappoint.
"Hey, sweetie." My mom peered into the room. She looked tired. Her long light brown hair was swept up in the back and she'd tied red a scarf around it. She was wearing flowing red pants and a button-up silk black shirt that a bit worn. An English and ESL teacher in the city, she also taught dance most nights to make extra money, so she didn't have much time to stop. But she also didn't sleep much anyways -- a family trait -- and liked to say that keeping incredibly busy kept her out of trouble.
She was right, and we also got along better when she had lots of things on her mind outside of worrying about me, about what she could have done, about how much she wanted a drink.
"Hey, mom." I stood up and kissed her cheek. "How was class tonight?" We wandered downstairs, and she flopped into our old leather chair, her long legs splayed out in front of her and her arms stretched out to the side. Our house was an old 3 bedroom with small rooms, high ceilings, lots of `charm' and a ridiculous heating bill. We rented and had for 12 years, but it didn't mean the landlord was particularly useful in keeping it up.
"Eh." She shrugged. "Second string rich girls who think they've got a bright future either in the American Ballet or some horrible music video who wouldn't know discipline if it bit them on the ass. They were horrid, as usual."
I had to smile. "ALL of them sucked that much?"
She made a rushed air sound of exaggerated annoyance and rolled her eyes. "No, maybe not ALL of them. But most of them did."
"Did you eat anything today?" I asked casually.
She wrinkled her nose at me, and stood up to pad to the kitchen. I followed her and watched as she poked into the refrigerator. "YES. I had lunch at school. "
"Like, what, carrots?"
"No! A salad. So there." She popped open a yogurt, grabbed a spoon, and looked at me almost defiantly after sitting at the small kitchen table. She was 19 when she had me, and at 38 she looked 10 years younger most days. This was an old routine with us, the role reversal, and it was a good thing in the saga of our mother-son relationship. "How was your day?"
I shrugged, and sat down next to her, letting my chin drop over my folded arms. "Eh, made an okay tip total. Some guy flipped out because he couldn't smoke his cigar in the lounge and got into a screaming match with this old lady who was obviously hardcore anti-smoking and kept making snide remarks while Carrie was explaining why it was no-smoking, even for rich assholes. Entertaining."
"But did he leave you anything?"
I smiled. "Hell, no."
"Bastard." She said sympathetically.
"Want me to make dinner tomorrow night?" I asked. Saturday was one of the only days she didn't have any work at all, and it was night for us to just sit and talk, gave enough time for her wry barriers to come down a bit.
"Sure. But!" She waved her spoon at me threateningly. "No buying some fancy fish or scallops or some such, Ethan, you can't afford it. It all needs to go to school." The fact that she couldn't cover my college education caused her endless guilt, so she compensated by being very motherly in making sure I was saving enough. It was sweet, but I didn't blame her for not having the money to send me to New York, and she didn't need to, either.
"We only have dinner once a week together, mom. It's not that much money and I like experimenting. And I like making you eat."
"Yeah yeah. Get off with you." She waved her hand at me, but smiled. She was so beautiful when she smiled.
"Alright, I'm going to bed. You staying up?"
Of course she was, she always did. But I had to ask, it was part of the routine.
"Just going to read for a couple of hours. I'll get some sleep, I promise."
"'kay." Kissing her forehead, I stood up and padded back upstairs. "Night, mom."
Not that I was sleeping either, honestly, I was going to draw in bed for a few hours, listen to music. Sleep came when it came in our house, and not as often as it should. But I always stayed up until mom came home, just to touch base with her, watch for the signs of a storm.
I was in an excellent mood the next day, already planning what I was going to cook for mom after talking to and getting suggestions one of the kitchen staff I was friends with, excited because Mina, Scott and I might go out afterwards to dance, and my shift had been short but financially lucrative. And Mike-free, because he'd come down with the flu. (Or something. Who knows with the way he got around, and I wished him the worst.)
"Mom!" I came home, practically bouncing in the door that entered into the kitchen. "Mom, how do you feel about Tequila chicken pasta?"
There was only the sound of TV from the living room, although I knew she was home because her car was outside and her purse was thrown on the floor next to the table.
"Mom?" I looked down, and peered at the open newspaper on the table. It was the New York Times Book Review, and...
Shit. All I had to do was read the byline for the lead review on the fiction page and know what was up. I didn't even have to read what the damn thing was titled, every couple of years a new one came out and mom entered one of her super-funks. All I wanted to know at this point. The only thing that was in my power to do was to do my best to keep it from turning into a gateway to something much worse.
"Mom..." Walking into the living room, I could see it was bad. There were 6 diet cokes and various snack foods lying around, and she was curled up on the couch in her nightgown watching some god-awful movie on TV, eyes blank. "Hey, mom."
"You see the review?" Her voice was tight.
"No. I don't really want to know."
"It's about you, this time. I'm sure that means it's sorta about me."
"Mom... Let's just have a good dinner tonight. I'm going shopping, do you want anything else?"
"I don't want dinner."
"Just go. You're leaving me in 3 months anyways. I should get used to it." She sounded petulant now, and there was no point in arguing with her, or even trying to talk to her. The citadel of self-pity and anger had been erected posthaste, and I'd yet to find a tank strong enough to break through despite 11 years of trying.
I went upstairs, turned on the computer, and fired up instant messenger. Brian was on.
Hey! How's it going?
Hey... Fingers hovering over the keyboard, I wondered if this was a good idea. Still interested in that concert?
"Hell, yeah, Road Trip!" Scott enthused, sounding up for the first time in a long time. He'd been in a strange mood for the last week, and I'd barely seen him, so it was nice to hear him happy.
"Oh My God I'd LOVE to see them again that's such a good idea! I can skip class for two days, no problem. Waaait a sec." Mina had almost been bouncing with excitement when I told her while we were watching TV at her house, where I had fled to after making sure my mom wasn't going to do anything more stupid then watch too much Lifetime television. I'd given her a review of the situation at home, and she understood. Then Mina had stopped dead to look at me through narrowed eyes. "How do you feel about this?"
"I'd love to see them again, they were really good." My voice was neutral and I kept my eyes on the screen.
"Ethan, you almost fucked the lead singer."
"So?" I turned to look at her, stubborn. "I'm not going to throw myself at him. I just want to see them again."
She was silent. "And Brian is gay?"
"Is this sorta a date?"
"No! I mean, probably not." There was a pause. "I don't know, yes. We didn't talk about it."
"Oh, Ethan." She handed me the popcorn. "This could be sorta weird. But, also. Really fun. You might have to explain some things to Scott, tho'."
I sighed. "If it comes to that. I hope not."
We sat in silence for a bit, me lost in my own thoughts, until Mina poked me in the arm.
She leaned towards me, sitting Indian style on the couch, and smiled a smile I could only describe as `wicked'. "You can't WAIT."
"Nu uh." I said stubbornly. "I don't want him to see me watching him. He'll think I'm stalking him. Which I'm NOT."
"You want to kissss him, don't ya', huh huh huh?" She poked me in the ribs, and I yelped and jumped, which must made her do it more. "Don't ya' don't ya' don't ya?"
"MIIinnnaaa STOP!" I grabbed her, and started to give her a very serious noogie that had her giggling and thrashing around. I finally let her go, glad we were able to hang like this again. She'd been strange for a couple of weeks.
"Yes, I want to see him." I admitted. "But I mean it: I don't want him to see me. He might not even remember me, and I really don't want to look like a just another chick falling all over him and licking his boots." I sighed. "He has really sexy boots. Damn things shouldn't be legal."
Mina giggled, and I threw a piece of popcorn at her nose.
And we were off on a beautiful Thursday morning; Scott doing most of the driving in the beloved '99 Mustang that he had bought off his brother years before. Carrie was not a happy manager that we were jetting for two whole work days that we had been signed up for, but some creative begging of our coworkers had paid off(I now was the proud owner of a couple of the shittiest shifts possible). Before leaving I had called a couple of mom's closest and more patient friends to make sure she wouldn't be alone that much while I was gone.
I needed an escape for a bit before handling her over the next couple of months, as the combo of the book release and my impending educational escape to the east coast was not going to make for a fun summer.
"HERE I AM AGAIN ON MY OOOOOOOWN..."
"No god please STOP!" Mina wailed from the passenger's seat, and I laughed. We were on the road, traffic could be worse, construction could ALWAYS be worse, and I was watching the cars go by as we talked stupid crap the whole way.
"Driver gets music choice!" Scott said smugly.
"Then let me drive, please!"
"Nope. My baby loves only me." He pet the steering wheel affectionately, and both Mina and I groaned. She won eventually, of course, by simply switching CDs and daring him to switch them again.
"So, tell me about this Brian kid." Scott asked, glancing at me in the rearview mirror for as long as he could without getting us killed. "You said he's another artist?"
"Yeah, mostly comic; he's pretty good."
"Not as good as you, of course."
"No one is." Mina said, and gave me a grin as I stuck out my tongue at her.
"So you're really cool with us dropping you off at his place, and we'll meet you a few hours later downtown? What if he's psycho?"
Brian and I had discussed it over the phone (he had a cute voice, full of laughter), and decided it'd be more comfortable if we met in person before introducing him to Scott and Mina. He lived in Oak Park, so it wouldn't be hard at all to meet up with them in a couple of hours close to the concert venue. Brian also swore he could get us drinks all night at the place without any trouble, so we were stoked. I didn't drink much, but knowing we could just stumble back to our hostel and were in an awesome big city made it appealing.
"He doesn't sound psycho. And, hell, you'll know where he lives after dropping me off."
"What if's all a ruse?" He asked sternly, only half-joking. "What if he's really a killer 50 year old with a thing for pretty young boys, huh? Why do you want to meet him alone?"
Mina turned to me and mouthed `Tell Him', and I gave her an adamant `no' face.
"Just to see some of his art, you know, so it isn't awkward to meet all of us at once."
"Okay, whatever. Ditch him if he sucks, though'!"
"SCOTT!" Mina squealed at him and smacked his arm. "We can't do that."
"Yeah yeah..." He looked at me intently in the mirror, and I returned it. Good questions, all, but it really didn't feel creepy and I never had an indication he wasn't what he seemed to be.
I was a hell of a lot more worried about how I would function talking to a real live Brian, actually, then him being a Dahmer.
We arrived at his building at around 3 in the afternoon, and it was a pretty nifty place, a pretty old prairie style house with big trees. Scott pulled up, and I got out just as the front door opened. He must have been watching for us.