“No don’t worry, we’ve got this, just get home; Missy is worried, she's called twice. I can’t cover for you anymore, Bruh. Anyway, she’s a good girl. I feel bad. She deserves better.” He didn’t mean to sound self righteous, but being sanctimonious had been assigned to him in eight grade when he lost his sight in one eye and his baseball prospects, breaking-up a bullying session after the school’s Sadie Hawkins dance, but righteous sanctimony and pity only got him to bar manager in the towniest bar in town. No one outside cared, but the inside cared enough to satisfactorily sustain his “life.”
“Fuck-you! Who better than you knows what she deserves, right Prom King?”
That wound was old but still moist for everyone involved. Gage, the bartender and Missy dated from seventh grade until Missy finished her degree in Urban Horticulture. Then Gage decided he wanted kids and to start a family; but, Missy said "not now and not without being married," so Gage knocked up Ann Marie, another townie, before moving out of Missy’s apartment in the city. He bought a house for his new family with her savings and credit and moved to the suburbs one weekend while she was at a work retreat. It seems impossible that they could recover from that!
I knew Ann Marie pretty well back then; she was terrified by the whole situation and couldn’t stand how decent Missy was about it all. It’s a small town we all ran into each other now and again. So when Ann Marie lost the baby and Gage moved out, we all still ran into each other. The three of us stayed friends but Missy turned her back on it all; and eventual Ann Marie opted out of life all together.
It was all so much, to stay and fight to get back what was hers made her someone she didn’t want to be; soothing Gage was an impossibility for her pride; and watching him suffer took t a toll on her self-esteem so she ran away. Her last friend was living in Texas, Missy moved there to heal and try again, o rat least to work her dream job for a few years. When she came back ,she came back with armor, she came back with Josh; which makes my relationship with him feel like an upper-cut, ripping open old wounds; I am sure it feels like a cosmic betrayal.
The school book romance of Missy and Gage was just the first of many stories about Missy and her charmed rearing, in her upper middle class, Midwestern suburb, that Josh was treated to when they moved here a decade ago. Such a contrast to the mean streets and hard knocks, the poverty plagued fatherless-ness and unreliable mothering that reared him. The more he learned the closer we got.
I assumed Gage was talking about me, that Missy deserved for Joshua to spend his free time with her instead of me, I guess because they swore to be "ride and die" or some shit. They'd been through death, diagnosis, treatment, survival, discoveries and much more that not even I know about; but, Josh and I don’t fuck so I’m not sure what she's always so upset about. He always goes home and very rarely takes me unless she’s on one of her work trips or visiting the in-laws.
I’ve met Missy’s parents, the Dad may be cool, can’t really tell, but the rest of the family… I see why he prefers to hang out with me. Now, Josh’s parents are bad-ass!!! We hang out! They don’t give a fuck about Missy and even less about their relationship! We sing, play games, I always feel so very welcome and Missy is NEVER there! They live in Texas so a few times a year we go down to visit, I am sure Missy knows but it’s just not discussed.
“She ordered you an Uber it’s outside. Mickey – take him out and make sure he gets poured in to the right ride, okay?”
Mickey did as he was told; he always does what he’s told. Well at least when other people are watching. Many nights after close and clean-up he and I hang out. He doesn’t have a Missy nagging him to get home, he has a Natalie who only waits for his child support checks, which she prefers to receive by mail. She couldn’t care less about how much time Mickey spends with me or what time he gets home. So we hang out. I know so much about him, about his life, his dreams, his hopes. We both know much of what he says isn’t true and most of what he dreams he will never do, but I listen, I am grateful for the company; we both are.
My favorite people sit with me at the bar, I like my seat at the end of the bar not far from the ice bin, easy reach for a quick pour; a familiar place that only a few regulars access or ever notice, I like it, it feels special, premium, better than top shelf.
I see most of the folks from the bar in other places like work or the golf course, festivals, fairs you know public stuff, official stuff; just around. It’s a small town I run into folks at the grocery store, the nail salon; I know someone everywhere, it’s cool – no one knows anything different, it’s just normal for everyone. I have a lot of close friends; platonic intimate relationships. A ton of single guys, a few girlfriends one or two with kids; and a handful of friends like Josh; Josh and I are really close.
Back in the day he invited me over to hang out almost every night. It pissed Missy off from the start, but she tried to be okay with it. We’d all watch TV then I’d leave and I assume they did what healthy couples do. After about seven or eight months, Missy’d go to bed while Josh and I played video games until the sun came up, I was always gone before Missy got up – I can only imagine what those mornings were like for Josh.
Around the end of year two it stopped being fun and got pretty ugly so we went back to just hanging out in public. Most of the time he had Missy’s car and her credit card so we did whatever!
I won’t lie, we did have a few crazy nights with some Randoms and Josh took things a bit far, but he knows his secrets are safe with me. Soon it didn’t matter, more nights than not I met back up with Josh and we’d end up crashing on someone’s couch, simultaneously I had been permanently uninvited from the house, I didn’t care that place was boring as fuck even the video games got old, shit was broken was always dirty, Missy was getting fat, haggard and just plain bitchy; worse, every time I hung out-- Missy tried to blame EVERYTHING on Josh and my friendship. She KNOWS we are not fucking but still she told him not to bring me home again, period.
Like clockwork, well no not really, Josh cut his turn around time in half this night. Just as well; Mickey was passed out anyway. His message said Union Station! I wondered what kind of adventure the night--the morning ambled ahead!
“Hey you! Where are we going”
“Yeah home-home, she locked me out and I am sick of her shit. She said I had to choose between you and her and well, that was no competition. I told her I chose her but she had to know better.”
“Awe, Dude sorry it came to that.”
“Naw it’s all good, I don’t do ultimatums, plus Mom and Dick will be happy to see us. They could use our help. You can keep them company while I get the house together and set some people in the community straight about how they treat them, this is good-- good for everyone. Plus I am done feeling bad about us, you are hands down my best and oldest friend, way better than Missy even. Maybe when she wakes up alone and to find her bank account empty , she’ll think about her ultimatum and all her self-righteous, judgment-- fuck her, fuck all fifteen years of her.”
“I agree, Missy’s all stress and expectations, and so hostile toward me not only when we’re together, but even when she sees me alone, she just hates me and there’s no fix as far as I can see.”
“Can you blame her”
“Yes, one hundred percent I blame her. She doesn’t really know me, doesn’t even try. I don’t fuck with her and she never has to see me if she doesn't want to-- neither do you, for that matter, but since I am always around she should at least try to understand, maybe get to know me better. You choose me, I think that’s what gets her the most, the fact that you consistently choose me. ”
“Whatever, you are not her and she cannot do what you can do, I resent having to choose. Come on it’s time to board.” he could tell by the nervousness of onlookers that he had said that a bit loud and with inappropriate passion for public. We got up and walked down the platform away from the Judge Hatchetts and Joe Browns.
“Naw, I don’t think I can ride with you, I’ll just meet you at your Mom’s”
“Don't be silly, you can come just hold my soda no one will say anything.”
Josh is always right, no one said anything; we were underway for a twenty-two hour ride to San Antonio, mostly uneventful, there were a ton of familiar faces the whole way, it was kinda' fun, super low-key; Josh slept a lot but that’s cool too.
Josh texed his past looking for someone willing to pick him up at the train. It was harder than he wanted to admit, but finally he got Dick to agree; in exchange for some cash and running a few errands before letting him take a shower and lay down in a safe space to be himself-- or at least listen to his head.
The unspoken reality began to settle on him; Missy had sent an Uber, these people won’t even take his call. He looked at me harshly, like I wasn't worth Harakiri after all, then that thought was replaced with the reality that I am all he has; the only unconditional love he had ever know and quite possible the only he will ever feel.
Finally we pulled into the car port, passed a late model Lagoon Blue Pearl Subaru Forrester, Missy’s dream car, or was he just imaging that? He hoped it was real, that she was waiting inside patiently ignoring his Mom and ready to take him back, back home with his dog, his shower, fully stocked fridge, fully maintained car, Jacuzzi tub and true, tailored love; and that he had imagined the whole journey, the whole fight, the whole revenge sex, the whole petty larceny, the whole flirting with the Uber driver. He knew she would forgive the staying out all night, she would never mention the influence she believes I exercise over him, she would cry in the shower and let us both off the hook with a late champagne breakfast and a trip to the Farmers’ Market or a Sunday of delivery and Netflix-and-chill.
“Mom, we’re home? Whose car is out front” said with hopeful arrogance while his body used what it had left to rush to the kitchen where she and his Mom must be.
“Orsetto!!! My Orsetto is home. Come see who heard you were coming home!” his Mom's voice was a certain kind of comfort, a little dangerous and always latent with a well intentioned agenda, but familiar and … his Mom.
He knew before he pushed back the beads, that intentionally obscure the view of the kitchen from the front door, that Missy wasn’t there. The fragrance was all wrong and Missy would have run to him, wrapped herself around him and made polite good byes as she backed them out of the house; Missy would not make him walk past the bong and beer cans strewn across the coffee table, she would not have made him step over the dog shit in front of the sliding glass door, they’d be half way to the hotel she booked for them to make-up in, to reset, to try yet again.
When he pushed back the beads there was a pretty brown skinned girl in a Ross for Less sun dress, posed like a Better Homes and Garden model at the far end of his childhood kitchen table, smiling a victors smile. I didn’t recognize her but Josh obviously did. He reached for me right there in front of his Mom and the unfamiliar, familiar girl. The girl looked confused and sauntered up to Josh inquisitive and pity filled. She reached in his hand a took me by the neck and asked “What is this? What did that bitch do to you?”she oozed anxious familiarity, and was careful to not over announce how long she had waited for this moment how much energy she and his Mom had put toward wishing for this moment-- in any form.
“What! She doesn’t recognize me? Everyone knows me! My scent, is unmistakable I stand up to mouth wash, cigarette smoke, minted gum, Taco Bell!! What kind of scam is she pulling acting like she doesn’t know who I am? Me not recognizing her is one thing, but vice versa is unbelievable.”
“Don’t worry, your home now, you’re safe.”She gently drew him to her in a comforting hug.
“Josh tell her, WE’RE home!, introduce us!” As she negotiated me out of his hand I tried to warn her, “I’m Allie C. Hall from Knob Neat. Truly nice to meet you, we come as a team.”