Friday, March 31, 2017

There Isn't One Chapters 9-12

Chapter 9: Gasoline Nightmares

 For once in my life, I lost track of time. The rest of the night and part of the morning were spent in a stimulant induced blur.  Molly made the mistake of drinking and ended up puking all over Bradley. He was visibly upset at the situation but managed to remain calm and mostly collected.  I don't think I would have been as nice.

Some time after the sun crested over the warehouse, I felt it's warm rays burning the left side of my head.  The right side was inexplicably cold. I opened my eyes and realized my cheek was plastered to the passenger side window of Molly's car. I felt mildly out of sorts and exhausted but considering the drugs I consumed the night before, I wasn't too bad off. Molly, however, was a pale shade of green.

“Oh. My. GOD!” She mumbled with her face buried in the steering wheel. “My head is killing me.”

“Alcohol is a cruel mistress, you know. Thankfully I'm not one to flirt with danger.”

Molly threw a cigarette lighter in my direction. “Help me roll a damn smoke, smart ass.”

I fished in her purse for smoking supplies. “Why did I drink so much whiskey?” Bradley groaned from the back seat.

“Because we're stupid, that's why.” Molly then leaned out of the car and puked all over the side.  I would have to clean that up later.

I managed to roll three cigarettes by the time Molly had regained her composure. I lit all three and handed them out. “Seems like you two need it more than I do today.” I smiled a little knowing I had handled myself in a somewhat dignified manner.

“I think a stop at Chad's is in order.  His coffee kills even the nastiest of hangovers.”  Molly prodded the car to life.

“I need to smoke this before I move.” Bradley had a fairly green complexion too.

Molly suddenly turned pale. “I don't remember ANYTHING after we started hanging out on the dance floor.  I didn't do anything with Ryan, did I?”

Thankfully I had a fairly clear recollection of the evening. “He gave you alcohol. You puked on Bradley.”

“Ewwwwww, Oh my fucking god! Gross!” Bradley clearly didn't remember the indecent.

“Anyway, I assume from his insistence on hanging out with us, he was trying to get with you. When he figured out that you won't give him the time of day even if you're shit-faced, he decided to come on to me.  He quickly figured out that I wasn't interested and hung out with other people. I don't think he'll be bothering you much any more.”  I didn't tell Molly that I had to almost break Ryan's nose in order for him to get the message.

“Well...thanks for sticking up for me, cousin. You're a good god damned friend.” Molly puked down the side of the car again.

“Do you want me to drive?” Getting my driver's license was another one of those things Henry had helped with and had kept secret from my mother.  I was starting to think that I had Henry to thank for most of my life skills. For some reason, the thought made me sad.

“Ugh.  Yeah, maybe you should.  I don't think I could maintain very well.” Molly crawled out of the car and puked again.  I thought maybe I should buy her a sports drink or something on the way home.  I yanked impatiently on the passenger door handle, forgetting that the door didn't work. How exactly had all of us piled in here so wasted? There were only two doors.

I finally managed to wrestle my way out of the car.  The sun stung my eyes as I surveyed our surroundings.  Several cars were still in the parking lot. Most of them contained at least one sleeping person.  A shirtless man was sprawled out on a hood.  “Looks like we weren't the only ones having fun.” I mused.

Molly managed to light her cigarette.  I had forgotten that I also had one between my lips.  I sparked it and inhaled deeply.  I felt a headache creep around my skull and my throat was beyond dry. I needed coffee, a bath and a soft bed.  I was about to drive a car that wasn't mine through miles of mountain roads on only a couple hours of sleep and a minor hang over.  I felt incredibly glad to be alive.

“This.” I said, smiling.

“What?” Bradley and Molly said in unison.

“This is living.”

“What do you know about living?” Molly laughed.

“I know that up until today, I haven't been doing it.”

Chapter 10: Minor Details

After a full day of recovery, our routine returned to normal.  Bradley stopped by in the evenings to smoke and joke.  He seemed to take a liking to me which made me happy because I had never been allowed to have friends outside of work. One evening, I confessed this to Bradley.

“How old are you?” Bradley asked.

“36” A long, beige existence.

“Christ! I'm 22 and I don't think I've listened to my mom's people suggestions in YEARS.”

“Dad quit asking to meet my friends in high school,” Molly chimed in.

“Your dad was wise in leaving Windhaven.” I would have never let my mom hear that. Henry, maybe, but never mom. “Everyone is so far up everyone's ass that I don't think they'd last as friends.” Even the high school kids rarely hung out outside of school hours.

“It's because everyone is related.” Molly let a giggle escape. “Is there a non Maywether in town?”

“Henry and one other family.  Henry, mom liked.  That other family was considered 'evil.'” The other family ran Windhaven's only grocery store.  Despite mom's misgivings, she was forced to deal with them on a regular basis.  Maybe that's why mom obsessively kept a food garden.

“Oh good lord.  Your mother had more issues than TV guide.  I thought maybe dad was exaggerating but yeesh!”

“Where do people like that come from?” Bradley was dumbfounded. “N n no offense.”

I wasn't offended. I couldn't be held responsible for my roots, no matter how deviant they may be. “Europe, somewhere and from there to the east coast and then to California where they have remained since the thirties.”

“It might as well have been mars the way dad talks about it.” Molly rolled a cigarette.

“When did your dad,” I struggled to find the right word. “Escape.”

“I'm not sure.  Before you were born, that's all I know.”

“I kind of wish he would have at least visited but mom and grandma didn't exactly make home a welcoming place.” I felt a pang of sadness.

“Shit, he didn't even know you existed until he took me to Windhaven. He wrote to your mom and grandma several times after he left but he never got any response.  He finally decided to show up and try to find out something, anything.  I think he left with more questions than answers.”

“Your family is really really messed up.” Bradley exhaled a large plume of smoke.

If someone had said that to me even a month prior, I would have fought tooth and nail to prove it untrue. The longer I was away, however, the more I realized that I had missed out on a lot more than just social interaction and popular culture.  
“Don't get me wrong,” Bradley continued, “Your dad is one of the coolest people I know but everyone else sounds like a wad of freaks.”

I took a long drag. “Not everyone in Windhaven is a freak.  Henry...” I trailed off. Talking about Henry made me realize that I missed him terribly.

“I never got to meet the guy. I wish I could have. He sounds like a big influence on your life.” Molly leaned over and gave me a gentile hug.

“Where was your dad?” Bradley asked.  Molly punched his arm. “Wha? What? What did I say?”

“Good question, honestly.” I replied.  I didn't blame Bradley for wondering.  It was a question I often asked internally.  Mom never mentioned it and for all I knew I was connived and born in a test tube.  “Mom would never have tolerated any questions on the subject and I was somehow perceptive enough to just never ask.”

“Just, wow.  My dad is a total asshole but mom never did anything but let my form my own opinion.”

“Yeah, same with dad.  Mom ran off with some European porn star but he at least tried to help me talk to her.  Last I checked she was in France.” Molly giggled.  

I suddenly had an idea. “Do you think your dad would know something? Mom isn't around to protest, obviously.”

“I can't see how asking would hurt.  You think you're ready for that kind of knowledge bomb?” Molly's concern was endearing.

I wasn't sure if I was ready but I did know I was tired of secrets and silence.

Chapter 11: Uncle Randall

Randal Maywether was by all accounts, a burn out.  He smoked marijuana regularly, had long hair and never held down a button-down job for very long. He wasn't ever very good at math and had no idea how to balance a checkbook or do his own taxes.  After dropping out of high school, much to my grandmother's chagrin, he packed a suitcase he stole from my mother and hitchhiked out of town. At some point he ended up in the bay area and married an actress.  The actress eventually tired of settled life and ran off but not after leaving Randall with a child and a very large trust account.  He had been living off of that and then later his daughter's acting revenue ever since. Of course, I would have never learned any of this from mom.  Her younger brother was a blight of failure on an otherwise glowing family tree. There was a time when I believed her.

Molly and I took the train to Oakland.  Bradley said that he wanted to come with to protect us from seedy types but Molly insisted that this be a family only visit.  As we exited the train, I somewhat wished that Bradley had come with us.  “This place gives me the creeps.”

“Yeah, dad lives in a wonderful part of town.” Molly rolled her eyes. “He can afford better but he says it's more 'real' in the ghetto, whatever the fuck that means.”
By the time we got to our destination, it was starting to get dark. “I'm going to get that lazy ass to drive us back over the bridge. Fuck the train at night.” Molly's logic was impeccable.

Randall lived in a run down building with boards on several of it's windows.  One corner of the building was missing bricks and the fire escape was held on with only a few bolts. I wondered how anyone could let a building fall into such a state of disrepair.  “What a dump!” I couldn't contain my disbelief.

“Sad part is is dad owns this pile of steaming crap, sort of.  He won it on a bet or some bullshit after I had started college.  He sold our house and came here to quote fix it up unquote. As you can see, it's still kind of ghetto fabulous.”

“Does anyone else live here?” I couldn't imagine having Randall as a landlord.

“Oh god, no. I could live here for free and I don't.  What does that tell you?”

We walked up to the front door in silence. It was an ancient wooden affair with an old brass knocker.  A call box was hastily affixed to the wall.  Molly smashed the bank of buttons with her palm. “Come on, stupid ass...”

“Hey hey, man. Chill out, the box is working up here.  Who is it?” A voice scratched through the old speaker.

“It's Molly, dad.  Who else would it be?”

“Molly isn't here, man.” Laughter.

“Oh Jesus CHRIST, dad.  That joke is older than you are.” I had never heard it before. I thought it was rather amusing.

“Ok ok ok, I'll come unlock the palace gates.” The speaker snapped off with a pop and a hiss.

“Cheech and Chong, what is this? 1975?” Molly sighed.

“Chong and what?” I clearly was missing something.

The door suddenly burst open.  A gargantuan bear of a man sprung from the darkness and hugged Molly. “Girl, I was starting to think you'd forgotten about your dear old man!” His long, gray beard consumed Molly's face.

“I've been rather busy,” I could barely hear Molly through the mountain of hair.

“No excuse, no excuse!” He held Molly out at arms length.  I could suddenly see the family resemblance in both of them. “You look good, honey.”

“Looking good is my job.”

“Who's your friend?” Randall looked at me suspiciously.  

“Daddy, this is June's daughter, Juliet.”

Randall seemed to swallow a lump in his throat. All the color drained from his face and he looked as if he had seen the grim specter of death.  He coughed and shuffled his feet. “I never thought you'd end up traveling this way, especially to see me.”

I wasn't sure how to approach the situation. All my life I had been told Randall was a loser and an asshole. I was told that Molly was cut from the same cloth. I had only been around for about a month or two and was already starting to see that mom and grandma was wrong about a lot of things. Even though it was obvious, old habits and patterns of thought are hard to break.  “Henry suggested that I come out here.  I can't say I'm all that unhappy that he was so insistent.”

“Henry, that sly bastard.  I always said he is Windhaven's only pillar of sanity.” I couldn't argue Randall's observation. “Come on in, girls.  I'll load a bong and boil some coffee.”

Randall's building was only three stories. The large foyer had an antique tile floor. I guessed at one point that the building had been an upscale hotel. The remains of a check in desk lurked gloomily in the corner and an old luggage cart stood beside it collecting dust. “What the hell is all this?” I whispered to Molly.

“Used to be a hotel.  Then it became a front for drug trafficking and then I won the son of a bitch on a horse bet.  Been my little slice of heaven ever since.” Randal beamed with pride.

“Why keep all the junk around?”

“Nostalgia? I don't know, maybe someone will roll through and want some of this garbage.  That and people think it's spooky.  Doesn't bother me none, it keeps the assholes honest.”

“It also could be that you're a big, scary long-hair.” Molly laughed.

“Shut up, girl.  You got that long-hair demon blood too.” Randal poked Molly in the ribs.  “Did I tell you I got the lounge all finished?  Finally got somewhere I can entertain.  I might throw one of them dance music recitals you're so head up about.”

“Right.  Like anyone would want to come down here for a party.”

“Location can be worked around as long as there are other amenities.”  I blurted out. What the hell did I know about throwing parties?

“Looks like the family still has brains.  You're all right, kid.” I hadn't been called kid since I was 15.  I felt oddly flattered.

Randall led us through the dust and cobwebs to an elevator.  I found it somewhat humorous that the building Randall got for mostly free had a working elevator and the building we paid over a thousand dollars a month in rent to didn't have a working elevator.  Randall poked the buttons. “Old thing doesn't like to work right but if you smack it enough, it's all right.”

The elevator screeched down to the bottom floor.  Randall kicked the door and it slowly opened. I suddenly wasn't too sure about how safe the ancient thing was. “Don't worry,” Randall had noticed my sudden hesitation, “This is a lot safer than taking the stairs.”

“Hooray,” Molly and I groaned in unison.

After a few tense minutes, we reached the second floor.  The elevator door lurched open and my jaw hit the floor.  The whole floor, or what I could see of it at least, was an opulent temple dedicated to comfort and luxury.  Multiple couches were strewn around the marble floor and they all were covered a rainbow assortment of velvet.  Hardwood end tables were strewn about the space.  A Japanese style fountain complete with live bamboo burbled in the center of the room.

“Holy crap on a stick, how did you DO this?”

“You'd have seen the process had you come around more.” Randall headed for the kitchen. “Take a seat, I'll get the refreshments.”

Molly and I settled on the nearest couch.  It was the most luxurious thing my ass had ever sat upon.  “Your dad is pretty awesome for a dirty bum.”

“Indeed. Couldn't have asked for better.”

Chapter 12: The Family Closet

“I hope you like strong weed and strong coffee.” Randall bounded out of the kitchen area holding a coffee pot and a large ornate smoking device.

“Are we supposed to drink it right from the damned pot?” Molly glared.

“I would.” I mumbled.

“See now, there's a girl with some PATIENCE.” Randall bounded to the kitchen.

“Oh what the fuck is that supposed to mean? I swear that man is obtuse on purpose.”

“Our entire family is obtuse on purpose.” I observed.

“It's a Maywether thing, my dear.  You inherited just as much of it as I did.” Randall carefully set three identical mugs on a nearby table. “So, Juliet, what brings you to my humble abode?”

I suddenly felt very pale.  I didn't know how much Randall knew about the events of the last few months and I didn't want to say something terribly upsetting or shocking.  He seemed like he could handle it but I wasn't sure I could.

“Daddy, when's the last time you talked to June?” Molly sensed my apprehension.

“Oh shit, I don't know. I sent her a letter saying you got into film school years ago and then another one when you graduated.  She didn't send me a letter until Mom died.  Of course she totally sent it after the fucking funeral so I couldn't go.  Made me look like an insensitive asshole but that's her specialty.”

“Well, she won't be doing that any more.” I immediately felt like kicking myself in the ass. What a terrible thing to say.

Randall raised his eyebrow as he took a hit.

“She died, dad.” Molly spared me from having to clarify my remark.

Randall slowly exhaled. “Huh. You'd think Henry would have at least had the good graces to write a letter.  I mean, I wouldn't have responded but...”

“His hands were full with dealing with me,” I confessed.  “I didn't take the situation too terribly well and it was rather unexpected.”

“For you, maybe.” Randal took another hit. “I knew this was coming for years.  What was it, bad liver? Brain hemorrhage? Heart attack? You don't drink and eat pills for damn near 40 years and not expect to, well, die.”  I didn't know mom had been such an addict. She certainly hid it well. “I was afraid,” Randall continued, “That you'd get caught up in the same bullshit and drop dead at around 55 too.  I didn't want to outlive my sister AND my adorable niece.  I'm glad to see that you're not caught up in that bullshit.”  I didn't want to tell him that up until a month ago, I was a part of that bullshit.  “So other than having your life upended unceremoniously, how are you doing? It sucks that I couldn't be around and that you and Mol couldn't grow up together but you're here now and that makes this old man happy.”

I quickly summed up the last thirty or so years.  I never knew my father and mom and grandma kept me on a pretty tight leash.  Up until I left Windhaven, I had never had a social life nor did I participate in anything but gardening and work.  Henry was the closest thing I had to a friend or a normal family for that matter.  He worked hard at keeping mom happy while at the same time trying to prepare me for real life.  Telling the story to Randall made me realize that Henry had seen mom's death coming too, he just didn't have the heart to express his concerns to me.  With as sensitive as I was, I didn't blame him for keeping it a secret.   It took thirty six years to build up a skewed and distorted view of reality.  In a few short months, that entire facade was starting to crumble and fade away.

“Wow, I missed so much.  I'm glad Henry stayed to keep an eye on you.”

“What do you mean?” Randall's words confused me.

“Oh boy,” Randall sighed and took a hit.  He passed the device to me.  “Take a couple of rips, drink more coffee and I'll tell you some minor details about Windhaven that your mom never bothered to tell you.”

“As I'm sure you are aware, your mom and I was born in Windhaven. What I'm sure you don't know is that your mom and I had different dads.” Scandal, and it was only the start of the story! “Mom left Windhaven as a teenager and came back pregnant with your mom. She never did tell anyone who June's father was.  No one really knew where he was even from.  Somewhere back east, I guess.  Anyway, her dad was pretty upset over the situation and tightened the ship, so to speak. Things went pretty well up until June entered seventh grade and mom flipped a tit.  No one really could figure out what happened then, either.  She took off in the middle of the night with grandpa's car.  June moved in with grandpa, the house you grew up in.  From what I understand, she was pretty broken up over the whole situation. Three months later, mom hitchhiked back into town, pregnant with me.”
“What the actual fuck,” Molly exclaimed.  “You never told me you and aunt June had different dads!”

Randall laughed, “It didn't make a damn bit of difference. We were both the same in granddad's eyes, bastard kids.  Grandpa cracked the whip on June and got her ready for taking over the business, since he figured that mom wasn't going to pull it together.  Go figure, having another kid was the ass kicking she needed.  Problem is, she started ignoring everything but the business.  Clients tripled, but she left raising me to June and raising June to grandpa. Everyone really just wanted to check out. I didn't know it until I got older, but everyone hated each other. June hated me for existing, I hated her for being such a demanding bitch. Grandpa hated both of us and hated his own daughter, his daughter hated him for hating her kids.  Mom hated us for a lot of reasons, mostly because she was bat shit insane.”

“No wonder people tend to not speak outside of work.” I said. “But, what about Henry?”

“Oh, Henry,” Randall seemed to tear up a little. “That poor bastard got caught up in a tornado of shit because he genuinely cared about your mom and you especially.  No matter what was going on between your mom and him, he always told me that he wanted to be a part of your life.”

“This Henry character sounds like a creeper,” Molly mused.

“Henry is one of my best friends.  He's more family than June ever was.  He also happens to be Juliet's dad.”

I spit coffee all over the floor and all over Molly. “Crap! Christ! Son of a bitch!” I scrambled for something to clean up the mess.

“You could have maybe, prepared her for that.” Molly helped me find a towel.

“How the fuck do you prepare for that? Seriously, Mol.”

“I don't think anything could have prepared me for that,” I finally said.

“I don't get it, dad.” Molly wiped coffee off of her shirt, “How did that even happen?”

“Henry and his family came to town right around the time mom went crazy and left June with grandpa. Henry's mom was an actress recovering from alcoholism so he could understand some of what June was going through. They met in school and started to spend a lot of time together. Oddly enough, Henry's mom and granddad died right around the same time.  Even though they hated their respective parental figures, it still took an emotional toll. Hell, even I missed granddad and all he did was yell at me and call me a bastard. Henry comforted us and we comforted him. Mom of course was furious that we would associate with an outsider but she also couldn't argue the fact that Henry was better at bookkeeping than anyone in the immediate family.”

“That still doesn't explain me.”

“I was getting to that. One thing obviously led to another and June got pregnant. Everything went to hell at that point. Mom of course had a complete and total shit fit and forbade Henry from seeing June outside of work.  She couldn't fire Henry because at that point, he knew more about what was going on than she did. June didn't know how to handle pregnancy or motherhood.  After you were born, she did what mom did and threw herself into the business.  Mom didn't exactly know what she was doing either.  You turned out OK, so I guess they got by but I'm not sure how. Henry likely looked after you quite a bit.  As for me, I couldn't deal.  After the explosion, I hitchhiked my way out of Windhaven.  I was tired of the bullshit and lies and tired of seeing my friend screwed out of his kid's life.  Maybe it was a cowardly thing to do.  Hell, I know it was a cowardly thing to do.  I tried going back and making it right when Molly was young but...” A single tear fell to the floor.  I felt rather awkward. Randall was getting emotional and I felt as if a giant weight had been lifted off of my shoulders.  Suddenly everything in Windhaven made a lot of sense. Sure, I was angry at mom for not telling me that Henry was my dad but he was always such a father figure in my life that knowing wouldn't have made a damn bit of difference.  At that moment, my respect for Henry grew.

“Well, what matters I suppose is that I'm here now and I can catch up on what I missed.” I tried to make the situation a little less awkward.

“How long are you staying?”

I really wasn't sure.  At first, my intent was to get away for a month or two. Henry insisted that I clear my head and re-focus so I could run the business.  The longer I had been away, the less the business seemed to matter.  Windhaven had left a bad taste in my mouth.  “I might never go back.” I took a hit. I was beginning to finally understand why people embraced the unexpected.

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