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With a Little Help

Part 1: Gemini

Chapter 5: The Magician; or, Yes, I’m Certain that it Happens all the Time

Donny was sitting at an umbrella table on the patio behind the Hot Pot, one of the dozen or so buildings on Brooker, which was paved entirely in tan brick and was all that passed for a main drag in Burlingham. On the outside, the Hot Pot looked like it had been attacked by crazed, paint-wielding, color-blind spastics with a fetish for paisley and Day-Glo; around back, a giant fluorescent mermaid gazed down, toned in eye-searing shades. (A title, done in small brush script along the bottom edge, declared it The Age of Aquarius.) Jake told him the Hot Pot had originally been a saloon, then the first location for the Plowman’s Lunch, which was now next door, before its new owner had renovated it into a coffee, tea, and sandwich shop. On the inside it was done up in psychedelic rock-postered walls and hardwood floors, and the glass-covered displays of cakes and breads had looked rather appealing. He learned that Ray had bought the coffee and Danish he’d fed him this morning from here.

Jake was inside, talking to the woman behind the counter. She was nodding to him and smiling, then looked past Jake to Donny. She said something quietly and Jake laughed, then shook his head. Donny heard him say, “No, he’s all right, he’s cool,” and the woman — what had Ray called her? Millie? Maddy? — handed him a tray with two cups and a plate on it, then quietly set something made of glass alongside it all.

Jake came out and set the tray down at their table, then took the chair right next to Donny. “That’s Maggie,” he said. “Maggie Sinclair, with hair down to there. Makes the best coffee. Also tea. Also brownies.” He waggled his eyebrows.

“Brownies?” Donny picked up a cup and sniffed. Sipped. Yup, tea. Minty. Not bad.

“Yeah. You know. Brownies?” Jake elbowed him and Donny, not wanting to seem opaque, nodded. “Anyway, I like the straight stuff better. About the only straight thing I want in me, ya know?” He picked up the glass something, which had been resting beside an enormous cookie, and which Donny saw had water in it (the glass thing, not the cookie), a tubular spout, and a bowl with some kind of screen on top of it, loaded with shredded leaves. He stared at it. It was the oddest-looking teapot he’d ever seen. “Wanna do a hit?”

Donny, who had lived a startlingly naïve life in Cliveston courtesy of his permanently pole-up-his-ass father, suddenly understood. “Wait. You mean there’s…” He lowered his voice and leaned closer to Jake. “You mean there’s pot in there?”

“Well we don’t call this place the Hot Bubblegum Shop, so you tell me,” Jake said, then produced a lighter quite similar to Ray’s. He flicked it open, sparked it and held it near the bowl, and inhaled. Bubbles filled with thick white clouds rose in the body of the water-pipe, and the air in the upper half turned murky. He flipped the lighter closed and leaned back, holding his breath for a few moments, then exhaled a plume that smelled of autumn leaf fires. “Oh man, that’s good,” he said, and passed the lighter over to Donny. “Maggie’s own homegrown. Take one hit, your mind gets blown.”

“But … you … I mean, isn’t it illegal?”

“Here, there, and everywhere,” Jake said. “Well, sort of. We haven’t exactly gotten around to passing any laws on it just yet here in Burlingham, so, you know, go for it if you want to.”

“Oh,” Donny said, eyeing the bong.

“Wait. Oh shit, man, I’m sorry. You’re a vir — you haven’t done pot before, have you?”

“Not … really, no.”

“Well … look, it’s all right; you don’t have to if you don’t want to. It’s not for everyone.”

Donny considered Jake. He was an athlete and seemed like a pretty decent dude. On top of that, he seemed smart too. It didn’t look like the pot was messing him up too badly. Plus, he was cute, which was Donny’s single greatest weakness. “Well … maybe I can try just a little,” he said.

“You sure?”


“Okay. Here, light the lighter, then hold it over the bowl, and — this is really important — you inhale, not exhale, and if you feel like you’re gonna cough, get the pipe outta your mouth first or water’ll spray into the bowl and soak everything.”

“Uh. All right. So you just … what, suck on it?”

Jake snorted. “They told me I can’t do that out here on the patio any more. Health regulations or something. Just … sip at it like it’s a soda. Okay?”

“Mm, sure.” Donny sparked the bowl and drew carefully, and felt it when the sweet smoke began rolling into his mouth. He backed off and inhaled as Jake looked on, the heavy cloud flowing down his throat and into his lungs. He instantly wanted to cough, but managed to hold it in until the spasms in his chest subsided … and then his eyes went wide as something amazing happened.

“Good?” Jake said.

It was like floating, borne silently aloft, in a field of warmth and softness, like his body had stopped weighing anything, like his cares, the last seventy-two hours, the last four years and the eleven before them had all stopped mattering. He stared at Jake, his eyes very wide. “Oh,” he said, the smoke rolling out of him. “Oh my God.”

“Right on,” Jake smiled, his even white teeth a dazzling flare. “This is your first bowl, so we’ll take it easy. Let me know when you’re feeling about half as good as you are now and we’ll take another toke, okay?”

Donny giggled. “Take a toke.” He laughed. “Take a toke of smoke, but don’t choke.”

Jake eyed him. “…Yeah, I’m guessing it’ll be a while. It’s cool, man. Have some tea. It’ll help the cottonmouth.”

Donny sipped. “Jake … look, thanks. Really.”

“You’re welcome, man. Always happy to help a brother turn on.”

“Huh? No.” Donny shook his head, but it didn’t clear. “No, I meant … I mean yeah, thanks for the pot and the tea and the oatmeal Frisbee, but I meant before, at the lake, with the car. I mean I was in there, in the car, in the lake, and you and the other dudes pulled me out, and thanks. I mean, I know you probably were kinda in danger when you did it, and there you were saving this kid you didn’t even know when all I wanted to do was die, and … um, thanks, I guess, for not letting me? Die? And for, you know, being in danger for me? Because, you know, I was going to drown but you stopped it. Me. From it. Drowning. And then you stayed with me all night, and that just means so much to me…”

“Okay,” Jake said. “I’m going to ask you something serious, and I want you to answer it seriously. Got it?” Donny nodded. “Do you feel like you want to cry right now?”

“No,” Donny said. “Why?”

Jake looked into his eyes, then nodded. “I was just checking. Some people, when they turn on, can get pretty sad. I guess you aren’t one of those people. I guess you’re one of those people who loses his inhibitions when he’s high.”

“I’m high?” Donny said, his eyes very very wide.

“My friend, you are flying at U-2 altitude.”

“Cool,” Donny said, and reached for the bong.

Jake set it aside. “Not just yet, man. Let yourself get used to it.”

“What’s that?” Donny said, looking up and around.

“That? Music. Maggie put on a record.”

“Oh wow.” Things were happening all around him now. The leaves on the bushes were getting very very … just … green, and the sky was very … blue, and Jake was very very very … not green or blue, just Jake, but his Jakeness was a Jaky level that Donny was sure no other Jake had ever managed to be. He was the sum of all Jakes, the sine qua non of Jakeosity. Jake jake jakeity jake was Jake, oh my yes, was he ever, that good old Jake. I get high with a little help from my friends came words floating around from nowhere to swirl in the infinite nothing between his ears, and he smiled. “Who are these guys?”

Jake gaped at him. “The Beatles, man.”

“Oh,” Donny said. “I wanna hold your hand.”

“That’s them, all right. This is their new record.”

“No, I — what?” He laughed. “I mean, I wanna hold your hand, Jake.”

“Oh.” Jake blinked at him, then smiled. “Sure, all right.”

“All right what?” Donny said.

“Let’s hold hands.”

Donny giggled. “Yeah, all right, sure, if you want to.”

“Brother,” Jake said. “Here. Grab on.”

It took Donny a while to figure out where all his fingers needed to go, oh wow there were so many fingers, but he got there eventually, and it was getting better all the time, and they smiled at each other and sipped their tea and nibbled an oatmeal cookie the size of a plate and toked from time to time, and they listened to both sides of the record, and they didn’t say anything to each other; and during the whole time, Jake’s hand never left his.

= • =

“That … was … amazing,” Donny said as the music faded, making moon-eyes at Jake. “God. Thanks so much. It’s like I’m … just, you know, completely aware of everything like I never was before. Like there are so many things happening all the time that I never saw before, and now I … I do. Like I’m just totally in touch with the world.” He looked around them. “Hey. When did it get dark?”

“Half an hour ago,” Jake said.


“We’ve been out here a while, man, and you’ve been out of it most of that time. I guess you really needed a vacation.” He seemed amused.

Donny moved to run his hand through his hair, and realized that Jake was still holding it. “I … uh,” he said, blushing fiercely.

Jake smiled and let go. “No problem. Do you remember anything much?”

Donny shook his head. It was still buzzing a bit. “I remember … music, the cookie, you … um…” he gestured to Jake’s hand with his own.

“Mmm. Maggie played Sgt. Pepper three times, and Revolver twice, with a side of Rubber Soul. We sang ‘Norwegian Wood’ together.”

“We did?”

“We did. You’ve got a really good singing voice, by the way. You hit notes like Annie Oakley. Don’t remember that, huh?”

“No,” Donny said, and laughed quietly, gesturing at the bong. “Is that what they call good shit?”

“It is. This is Maggie’s latest crop. Kicks like my grandpappy’s mule, as my grandpappy says.” He reached over and ran his fingers along Donny’s cheek. “You don’t remember anything else?”

“Like … what?” Donny said, shivering at Jake’s touch, little silver traces under his skin where his fingertips had brushed him.

Jake shifted closer. “Like when you tried to kiss me?”

Donny swallowed. “I … did?”

“You did,” Jake said quietly.

“And … did I?”

“You did.”

“Oh.” Donny blinked at him. “Was it … any good?”

“You tell me,” Jake said, and pressed his lips, warmly and softly and entirely, against Donny’s.

“Oh,” Donny breathed after a very long, very nice time. “Wow.” He was tingling everywhere now. He could still taste Jake’s tongue.

“Mmm.” Jake stroked his cheek again. “Me too, kid.”

“We sure don’t do it like this up in Cliveston,” Donny said quietly.

Jake studied him. “Is that part of the reason you … I mean … with the car, and everything…”

“It’s all the reason,” Donny said. “All the reason.”

“Would you like to tell me about it?”

“It’s … um, didn’t Ray say something about…”

“Yeah, he did,” Jake said. “I called him a little while ago when you were somewhere around Mars. He’s not expecting you back at County Hall tonight.”

“Oh,” Donny nodded. Then he said, “Jake? Where … um…”

“I was thinking,” Jake said, and took his hand again, “that maybe you could spend the night at my house. If you want to.”

“Oh.” Donny’s blood was thundering in his ears. “Did you tell him that was where I’d be?”

“Yeah,” Jake said.

“Well I guess we’d better go to your place, then,” Donny said, and Jake smiled and kissed him again.