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Fiction Speculative

This story contains themes or mentions of substance abuse.

James took the bathroom art off the wall and put it on the counter. I watched as he used its glass front to cut his cocaine into three short lines. The powder appeared to levitate above the typography print that read, “Please don’t do coke in the bathroom.”

James snorted a line using a rolled-up twenty, slurped the drip from the back of his throat, and spit the wet into the sink. He did that every time he did coke. Snort. Slurp. Spit. 

I didn’t want to be there, but I couldn’t get out; James and Mandy Stuart pinned me to the back corner of the half bathroom when they rushed in, saying they wanted a bump before Entourage started. James snatched the artwork from the wall like it was routine. I wondered if Ryan told him to use it. 

My guess was Ryan yelled at James when he tried to do coke in the kitchen because the maids had just cleaned it. He probably told James to go to the bathroom and use the picture frame. Ryan liked to keep a clean house. He was fussy about his things, and he had many of them because he had rich parents. He liked to peacock. I’ve seen him wear white jeans bedazzled in rhinestones. He also got laser hair removal and matched his socks with his accessories. Somehow it all got him laid. 

Ryan attracted women like his ex, Mandy Stuart, who I gawked at like a genie’s magic lamp. If you gave me one wish back then, I would have chosen her. But we had nothing in common, I wanted to be a writer, and she made gossip videos on Youtube and was my best friend’s ex; it never could have happened, but she was so alluring you couldn’t help but dream. 

I watched her take James’s twenty and stick it up her nose as she lowered her face to the picture frame. She snorted up the coke, and I felt like I was in a movie because she was that beautiful, and because Ryan’s house was that nice, and because doing coke was what they did in Entourage. 

I’ll tell you, I’d done coke before then, but I didn’t do it like them, and I wasn’t going to do it that Sunday because I’d decided earlier that week that that Sunday would be when I would finally start writing. Sundays were perfect for me because I’d kick it with the boys and watch Entourage, and Entourage was a creative show, so I thought it would help spur my creativity. The plan seemed so perfect, but I could never share it with my friends. I didn’t tell anyone I wanted to be a writer. 

After Mandy Stuart gave James back the twenty, he shook his arms like a wiggling dog. Actually, he sort of looked like a dog. He was squat and had dog-like strength, and I’d seen him attack people outside bars and inside rings like a dog. My general opinion on dogs is that you cannot trust them if they’re not golden retrievers. This is where I tell you that James wasn’t a golden retriever.  

He tried to pass me the twenty.

“I’m not doing it,” I said, worried about Mandy Stuart’s reaction, but she paid me little attention. Her reflection hypnotized her. She smiled and nodded at herself like she was practicing for an interview. 

James called me a bitch, “Why aren’t you doing this line?” 

“Because I don’t want to do it,” I said.

“Bullshit,” He pinched the bridge of his nose, “Just tell me why you’re not doing the coke. You got a date or something?”

I couldn’t tell him I was writing. It was worse than fear; telling someone about my dream of writing was a like a phobia.

I told him a lie, “That’s right. I have a date.” 

He guffawed, “Who is she?”

“You don’t know her,” I said.

He laughed, and it offended me. 

Mandy Stuart opened the door to go back into the living room, “It’s starting!” 

James plunged the bill into his nose and did the final line of coke. Snort. Slurp. Spit. 

Then, before I knew it, James had a finger jabbing me in the stomach. You’d swear it was made out of steel. He prodded, “You’re not really going on a date, are you?” 

I told him to stop, but the way I said it was too emotional, and he laughed at me. I know I called him a dog, but sometimes when he laughed, the way his jaw moved, he looked like a shark. 

“You’re lucky it's Entourage,” He said, swimming out of the bathroom. 

I exited the bathroom to see two pistols, a gun sight, and a box of ammo on the ottoman and Mandy Stuart helping Ryan put on Louie Vuitton gun holsters. She tightened the cross straps, so they were snug across his shoulders. 

“You look hot,” She said.  

Ryan slapped his hairless stomach, “I could stand to lose a few.”

Then he noticed how his ex was looking at him and corrected, “But you think I look good? You like it?” 

Mandy Stuart stuck her pretty finger - the same one she used to plug her nose - into her mouth and bit it while staring at Ryan. Boing. You’d think you were watching the beginning of a porno, but we were all supposed to be there to watch Entourage. 

It was the episode where the guys are preparing for the Gatsby premiere. I sat down on Ryans’s expensive microfiber couch as far away from James as possible, but all I could pay attention to was whoever was holding the guns. I hated when Ryan took them out. There’d never been an accident, which only fueled my thoughts that there would be one soon. 

As Mandy Stuart took pictures, Ryan modeled what the holster looked like with the guns tucked into their pockets. James was on the couch tossing the gun sight in the air like it was a paddle ball. He also kept tapping his foot. I guessed that Ryan had done coke earlier, and when I realized I was the only sober one in the room, I began observing the three of them like animals in a lab; this is what people do on drugs. We were supposed to be watching Entourage. 

“Where’s Cory?” I asked all of them. 

James rested the gun sight on his hand and squinted at me through it. 

“He’s on the balcony, on the phone.” 

I nodded. Cory was always on his phone, always doing something. He was the most reliable friend in the group. Ryan liked to play leader, but it was Cory who made sure we didn’t rip each other's throats out when things got tense.

“Bro, let me see one of the guns,” James said to Ryan.

“Chill,” Ryan paused for effect, then snatched the pistol from its holster and spun it around his pointer finger. When he stopped it, the handle was facing James. I would have left, but leaving before the end of Entourage wasn’t an option. We met every Sunday, and we watched the episode in full. That was the rule. 

To my right, James clacked on the gun sight. “Sam,” he said, ”just tell me what you’re doing tonight.”

I needed Cory.

“Nothing,” I said, “Going on a date.”

“Sammy’s going on a date?” Ryan said from the rocking chair, which sat in the middle of the living room. Mandy Stuart was on his lap. They’d broken up about a month ago. 

I turned my head to the TV, “Let’s just watch the show, alright?” 

“That’s what he says, but I don’t believe him,” said James, “Sam, tell me who you’re seeing tonight.”

“No,” I said, ignoring him.

He jabbed me in my side with the gun’s barrel. 

“Dude, stop,” I said, whipping my head around and moving away from him. 

James raised the gun at me and squinted through the scope, “Tell me!”

 I yelled, “Stop!” 

Ryan's staccato laughter matched the creaking of the rocking chair. James burst out laughing too. I was furious and stormed out of the living room. 

“Calm down, bitch” James said, “It’s not loaded.” 

“Fuck you, dude,” I fired back, “I don’t want a gun pointed at me.” 

By this point, the mood in the living room had soured, and Mandy Stuart got off Ryan’s lap to grab her phone off the table. I was in the kitchen and heard Cory talking on the balcony outside. He sounded concerned, but I couldn’t make out any words. 

“Everyone, chill out,” Ryan said, “I’ll put away the guns.” He rode the rocking chair like a dirt bike and flung himself off it to a standing position. When he landed, he held his hand out in front of him for James to give him the gun. Once he had it in his possession, he put it in his holster, so both of the guns were where they belonged. He was standing in the middle of the living room; Drama and Turtle were on the screen behind him. I had no idea what was going on, and then Ryan looked at Mandy Stuart and asked if she wanted to help him put his guns away. 

“What about the show?” I asked him as he walked up to the main bedroom, with Mandy Stuart in tow. 

“We’ll be right back.” 

But I knew he wouldn’t. 

You might be wondering why I didn’t just tell James that I wanted to write that night; why I didn’t just tell him the truth. You know it’s not that simple if you've ever been bullied. If James ever found out that I wanted to be a writer, he’d make such a thing out of it that writing would be ruined. I had to protect it.

“Come back to the living room,” James said, crossing his legs on the couch. Within seconds his ankles were moving like propellers; he couldn’t sit still. I worried he’d continue to fuck with me, but you have to walk a fine line with your bully. If you shy too much away from them, it will make it worse; you have to be around them but not let them too close. 

That Entourage episode was the first time I saw Gal Gadot on TV; no one knew who she was back then. She started on Entourage, and now she’s Wonder Woman. Incredible. I went back into the living room, sat on the chaise lounge across from James, and hoped he’d let it drop. We watched the TV for less than two minutes before he started back up. 

James, seated, tilted from side to side, his feet on the ground, “You know Mandy Stuart’s freaked out by you?”

“What are you talking about?”

“She says you don’t have a thing.” 

“A thing?” I asked. 

“Yea, like she’s a Youtuber, Ryan’s rich, I’m a fighter, but you don’t have a thing.” 

His words drilled a hole through my stomach, but I still couldn’t tell him the truth; he would ask too many questions and see that I hadn’t put in the work. I pictured my closed laptop, in its case, under a pile of unread books. If I was a writer, I was also a fisherman and a skier; I’d done them all the same amount that year. Was it once or twice?

I looked down at my feet and heard a trickle of moans above me.

Ugh. Uggggggggggggh. Uggggggggh. Ryan and Mandy Stuart were having sex upstairs.

As the ceiling thudded, I noticed James stand up. With two steps, he was at my side, and before I knew it, I was under attack; he bashed his knee into the side of my leg. The pain was so severe I dropped from the couch to the floor. 

James stood over me. He told me to hit him. 

“Fuck off,” I said, “What the hell are you doing?” 

“I’m trying to help you. You’re being a bitch.”

On TV, I saw Jamie-Lynn Sigler and Turtle on Rodeo Dr. Is this the scene where I get my ass beat? 

The balcony door shut, and Cory walked in, rubbing his hands together. He was the only one of us who looked like he could ever be on TV. He dressed like he belonged in Entourage. He had a unique character, too; he gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. Even when he saw James in a fighting stance and me on my knees, he asked in good faith, “What did I miss?” He grinned at us like he was in on a joke, “And I’m not talking about what’s happening upstairs because I know they’re fucking.”

“James just hit me,” I said. 

James rubbed his eyes, “He’s being a bitch, Cory.” 

“Jamie, baby, you can’t act like this,” Cory said, clasping his hands in front of him, “Sammieboy’s our friend.” 

Cory helped me onto the couch. 

“You want to do some coke?” James asked Cory. 

“Would that make you happy?” Cory nodded at James and I, “Would doing coke make this situation better?” 

“Sam’s not doing coke; he’s leaving soon,” James crossed his arms, “He’s got a date.” 

“I missed the show,” Cory said, motioning to the credits rolling on the TV before looking back at me,“So, Sammie’s got a date. Right on.“ 

Cory squatted a little to get to James's eye level, “We should be happy for our friends, right?” 

Somehow him treating us like children had defused the situation. James stumbled to the bathroom, and Cory extended his hand to say goodbye, “What are you doing tonight, Sam?” 

“Nothing, I just want to go home,” I said, shaking his hand.

“I love that about you, Sam; you do whatever you want.” 

When I got home, I had to charge my computer before it would turn on, and when I was faced with the white of the blank page, I couldn’t write, and I didn’t try. I blamed it on James, but I probably would have found another excuse if it weren't him. Maybe I didn’t have a thing. Dammit; I slammed the laptop shut. 

Ryan, Cory, James, and I watched Entourage together every Sunday for two more seasons after that night, and James and I never talked about that night. We were quasi-friends until a few years ago when he died from Fentanyl. His failed MMA career left him a destitute addict. You know how it is - it can happen to anyone. Mandy Stuart has twenty-three million followers on Instagram, and Ryan bought a mansion in Texas and told me he gets a trust fund of two-hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year. Cory started working as an executive assistant for Stewart Butterfield the year before he founded Slack, and now he’s a successful investor in tech. We rarely all get together these days, but when we do, Entourage is never mentioned, and I don’t bring up my writing; you don’t talk about bad TV. 

June 17, 2022 22:07

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8 comments

Victoria Telford
18:58 Jun 29, 2022

a nice, easy flowing read, good work! looks like he got to write his story after all!

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Ace Quinnton
18:12 Jun 28, 2022

"You don't talk about bad TV", you talk about the good ones. Nice work, Scott! "Some things are better left unspoken in certain circumstances" is the overall aura I get from the story. Interesting take on the prompt, I like it.

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21:58 Jun 22, 2022

You really pulled off the feeling of wanting to protect something, protect a dream until you start reaping its fruits. I had kept such secrets and still do! You got me totally engrossed in the story. Great work!

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Scott Skinner
04:38 Jun 23, 2022

Thank you, Jincy!

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Zack Powell
00:14 Jun 22, 2022

Probably my favorite thing about your stories, Scott, is how gritty they are. Like, they're clearly set in our world, but almost a darker version of it, and your prose doesn't pull any punches when it comes to exploring the underbelly of things. Case in point: this story. Great hook with that opening paragraph. Quick anecdote: A few months ago, I bought a short story collection that had "The first time I smoked crack cocaine was the spring I worked construction for my father on his new subdivision in Moonlight Heights" as the opening senten...

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Scott Skinner
04:38 Jun 23, 2022

TYSM for the feedback! That opening line you mentioned from the short story collection is awesome, for sure. While I don't think mine is quite as good, I'm glad it served its purpose in immediately letting you know what you were getting into. I particularly like how you shouted out that golden retriever line - my mom is about to get a new gold retriever puppy and that was a little nod to her :) I think your critiques are fair, especially #1 about the use of the word Entourage. It's one of those things that I didn't think about as I was e...

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Claire Lindsey
16:57 Jun 19, 2022

The Great Gatsby reference really got me, because this scene reminds me of the party at the hotel. We see everyone’s flaws slipping out through the cracks. Your imagery, especially when you describe James, is excellent. Nice work!

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Scott Skinner
03:39 Jun 20, 2022

Thank you! Good call on the Gatsby reference - I didn't choose that episode for that specific reason, but I kind of wish I had because I like your interpretation of it.

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