TV Movie Crisis

How about one more short story?

Next week, we’ll shoot for a movie review, and something hopefully a little more elaborate than anything else I’ve run so far (still working on ideas—Leave me alone).

I love this story. I like the concept, anyway. I think that’s because most of this really did happen to me. The only thing that’s not true is the confrontation. It never came up, but there really was a pregnant junkie, and I really was willing to lend a hand. I’ve given up about forty thousand miles of my life to Greyhound. The longest run was from Richmond, VA to San Francisco, CA, and I believe the trip getting to San Francisco is where this piece comes from.

Greyhound lends itself well to being a writer, and I’m glad I’ve logged so many miles. It doesn’t have quite the same spirit of adventure as it once did, but it’s still the best way for me to get into trouble in a whole different story.

I can’t speak for the quality of the story. My gut tells me it’s pretty good, but I’ve never been able to find a literary journal for this thing. Hopefully, that’s due to the length of the story (damn near a novella), and not because it’s fundamentally terrible. Obviously, I’ll leave the final call up to you. I was tempted to split this in two, but then I just figured we may as well go for the glory.

What glory?

I don’t know, but it sounded good.

There’s also a short film script for this story, and I’d love to see it filmed someday. I have several full-length scripts in the vault. It would be a high dream realized indeed, to see some of them make it out into the world.

Enough rambling?

Enough rambling.

Enjoy.

**********
TV Movie Crisis
By Gabriel Ricard

“You know,” she said. “If you were here, you’d be home by now.”

Dylan looked up from his book, glancing at her. He wasn’t sure if she was kidding or not. After all, they were only a couple of days into this friendship of theirs. But he thought about what she had just said anyway. “Yeah, well,” he started, thinking carefully. He wanted to be funny here. This had to be along those bitter sarcasm lines he had been working to perfect since around twelve years old. “If I was here in Memphis, I’d also be dead by now, because I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have made it to my eighteenth birthday without slashing my wrists.” He went back to his book for a second, for effect. There, he thought. That was good. It wasn’t his best. Not by any stretch of the delirious imagination. But it was still decent. Considering he was on day two of his three-day Greyhound trip back home after two weeks in San Francisco, it was goddamned brilliant. Two days and a little change of sitting in those horrible seats, of eating McDonalds cheeseburgers off the dollar menus, of sitting next to guys in stained pink wife beaters and bunny slippers, who spent six plus hours telling him why The Ultimate Warrior should be the next president of the United States.

Two days of that and a lot more, and anyone’s belief in the essential good of all mankind would suffer serious damage. Let alone their sense of humor.

“It’s a pretty horrible place,” she said, hands resting on the knees of her faded pajama pants with the white and dark blue pattern. “Isn’t it?”

He looked up his from his book again. One of those long tomes from Hunter S. Thompson on why the real world was a lot more terrifying, ugly, and surreal than anything H.P. Lovecraft could have ever come up with. On Greyhound, a book like his was like having the best soundtrack to what a movie about this kind of thing would look like. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It’s pretty awful. But it was kind of cool to see the old Sun Studios building.”

“Sun Studios?”

He sighed. He had met Olivia in Reno on his way back home and her way back to Florida from L.A. She was beautiful in that bruised and battered angel on the mean streets of America kind of way. She was also pretty good conversation. But by the same token, she was also pretty far from being the sharpest knife in the drawer. He smiled. “Never mind. I’m just babbling.”

“Oh.” She nodded, looked at him for a second longer, and went back to her magazine.

Dylan checked the clock on the wall in front of him. Jesus Christ on a motherfucking bicycle. Another three and a half hours to go. And that was if the bus was on time. It was kind of playing a lottery where you didn’t win enough money to retire on, but maybe, if you were lucky, you got just enough to pay a week’s rent and groceries. On the trip back alone, a three-hour layover in Amarillo, Texas, turned into a ten-hour delay that only ended because of his willingness to take a different bus that promised to get him to his original destination but would add about fourteen hours to the journey. If that were out of the ordinary, it would probably be a little less painful. But as it was pretty much standard operating procedure for these bastards, and it was essentially the inevitable and only way that things went around here. Dylan imagined he had a better chance at being trapped in a David Lynch movie and maintaining his sanity in that than spending another day on the Greyhound way of getting across this bleak, terminally ill country.

He couldn’t help but laugh a little at that. If he thought there was any chance of Olivia getting the joke, he would have had to share that one with her. But he had his doubts. Nothing against her, but she didn’t look like the David Lynch type.

Though maybe she had seen The Elephant Man at some point. At twenty-five, she was old enough. Or Twin Peaks. People still remembered Twin Peaks.

“So,” she said. “What are you going to do when you get home?”

Dylan shrugged, flipping to the next page in his book. He was skimming at this point, but picking up enough words and sentences to keep with the action. “Not much of anything,” he replied. “I guess sit around, write, and maybe decide if I’m going to go to college in the fall.”

“How old are you now?”

“Twenty-one.”

“I wish I was twenty-one again.”

“It’s overrated.”

She laughed and brushed a strand of hair from her eye. It was short, auburn colored, barely going past her ears. “Of course it is. But still,” she paused, glanced at him, and smiled. She had a good smile going for her. It was tired, but it was still there. A couple more years, Dylan imagined it probably wouldn’t be around anymore, a phantom limb of an old personality. For now, she still had it. “It’s a lot better than twenty-five.”

“Probably.”

They read together in silence for a couple of minutes. Olivia was definitely an abnormality of this place, this particular way of getting around. As he thought about it, he realized that this was fourteenth Greyhound trip in six years. New York, Jersey, New Mexico, Texas, Arizona, North Carolina, Colorado. He had seen a lot of the country on these horrible little buses where you couldn’t smoke. You couldn’t smoke, and you couldn’t complain about the way the seats gave you the knees of an eighty-year-old man after about three straight hours down the most boring highway in the United States. He had seen a lot, and he had met a lot of people. More outcasts and low-budget sociopaths than he would ever have imagined could simultaneously co-exist. Some of them were scary as hell, many were good as a sort of car crash entertainment, a rare few were good for actual conversation, and even fewer than that came out to being the kind of people Dylan could envision being friends with outside the necessity of needing someone to talk to and pass the time on these things.

Olivia was very much in that last group.

He checked the clock again, as though time could be willed to magically move several hours forward in the actual space of a couple minutes. Sitting in a place like this really could do that to you; give that sort of science fiction optimism in the most absurdly unrealistic expectations. But of course, only a couple of minutes had gone by, and he was still staring down the barrel of more time in Memphis than he would ever dream of asking for. Three hours and a little under thirty minutes to go. At some point in that, there would have to be some thought of getting something to eat from the little cafeteria they had. Because nothing told you to shut the fuck up and smile while you’re traveling like paying six dollars for an undercooked cheeseburger and four-fifty for a flat soda. It was like knowingly going to a really bad movie.

“Do you want to go out for a smoke?” she asked.

Chain-smoking was another highlight of Greyhound. It had been less than twenty minutes since his last one. And it would probably be less than that before he went out for another after the one he was about to have. “Absolutely,” he said. “God yes.”

She stretched out her slender arms, which didn’t really go well with the two months of pregnancy on her stomach, and cracked her neck from left to right. “Do you think our stuff’s going to be okay?”

Looking around the terminal, Dylan couldn’t see a single person who looked interested in anything but getting the hell on their next bus and getting the hell to wherever it was they had to go. Besides that, he’d be able to see their bags from where they stood to smoke. “It’ll be fine,” he said, trying to sound like he knew what he was talking about. He sort of did, but he kind of wanted to go for more than that. Something war-weary and admirable. “Memphis isn’t as bad as it looks.”

“I don’t think I’d even want to be in Tennessee,” she said. “If it was half as bad as it looks.”

Dylan laughed. Coming out of her, that was actually kind of funny. He walked towards the door nearby that would take them to the little area outside where people were allowed to smoke. It was forbidden damn near everywhere else, including the front of the stupid building. Figure that one out. Olivia moved behind him, taking slow, tired steps until they were through the door and out into the thick of the ugly, stale, humid air. Dylan took out his pack of cheap Virginia cigarettes against Olivia’s Newports. They almost lit them up in sync. “I’m still not sure I’m comfortable smoking with a pregnant woman,” he said, throwing in a smile so it didn’t look like he was going to lecture her or something. He really wasn’t comfortable with it, but he didn’t want to make her feel bad either.

“Better than the stuff I was doing two months ago,” she said.

“Remind me again of what that was?”

She looked up towards the sky for a moment, as though she actually needed to think about it. “Nothing all that exciting, to be honest. Just cocaine, speed, pot, a little bit of heroin.” She smiled, bringing the cigarette to her small, thin lips. “You know, all the things a growing girl really needs.”

“I’ve tried cocaine,” Dylan replied. He wasn’t sure if he had told her this already. “But I didn’t really get it.”

“Yeah,” she said. “I remember you telling me that back in Denver.”

Ah. So he did. “I also did speed a few times. I kind of understood that.” The smoke hit the back of his throat, which almost made him start up a coughing fit. He held it in though. Four years of being a smoker, and he was still doing that. It kind of killed the whole cool factor of being a smoker that admittedly, sadly appealed to him a hell of a lot.

She closed her eyes, as though that it was all it took to be right there again, wherever she had been three months or more ago. A moment, just a single second of peace flashed over her. But then it was gone just as quickly. “God, it’s great, isn’t it? You feel like running to Mexico. Doesn’t matter if you’re in Northern Canada.” She laughed. “You’re totally up for it, you know? You just understand the potential to do…” she paused to take a drag off her cigarette. She was almost done. “Everything.”

Yeah, he thought. She was right about that. It was the idea that you could literally do anything on enthusiasm alone, with the energy and sudden optimism to believe that you could really do it. Of course, coming down from the high was all of that in a terrible reverse, but you had to take the good with the bad. He personally hadn’t touched the stuff since his seventeenth birthday, but of all the drugs he had ever fooled around with, that and pot were the only two he kind of missed. The way you miss a friend who had some strange, incredible quality that always somehow made it occasionally possible to overlook all the horrible parts.  He took one last hit off his cigarette and tossed it to the ground. Inside, beyond the glass wall, he could see their stuff resting in the place they had left it. He turned to her. “You done?”

“Yeah,” she said, nodding and tossing her cigarette to the ground. “I guess we’ll go in and get something to eat.”

Dylan nodded, about to tell her that he was thinking that as well, but he stopped, noticing the homeless guy that was obviously coming up to them. He knew how to handle this. In the scheme of homeless people in America, Memphis was somewhere in the middle. A good mix of bastards, tired saints, drunks, junkies, dedicated lunatics, and guys who managed some combination of all of the above. New Mexico, on the other hand, favored the junkies and psychos. San Francisco was big into the saints and war-weary crazies. Washington D.C. had an overwhelming army of bastards going for them. No matter where you went, it was always a little different.

This guy had the look of either a junkie, a drunk, or a loose combination of both.

“Excuse me,” he said, polite as hell under an ancient shirt with a picture of The Road Warriors on it, a pair of dirty, torn blue jeans, and a thin material Chicago Bulls jacket that was about a size too big for his ruined, undernourished body. The flip-flops on his feet completed the picture nicely. “I really need to be in Nashville by the end of tomorrow, to see my brother’s homosexual lover about a car he wants to sell me, but I ain’t got enough money, you know?” He shrugged and smiled helplessly. “So, I was wondering if you could throw me a couple of bucks.” He smiled again, weakly, knowingly. “Or whatever you want to spare.”

The part about his brother’s homosexual lover was a nice touch. Dylan couldn’t remember hearing it put quite like that before. If he had to rate the story against all the others he had heard, he imagined the score falling somewhere between four or five out of ten. It really wasn’t very creative, wild, or even vaguely interesting. But the bit about his brother’s lover was a weird thing to throw in. It was the only reason why he thought about giving it anything higher than a three. Still, he was in the mood for a random good deed. “I’ve got a couple of bucks I can give you,” he said, reaching into his pocket. He never kept the money he planned to give to the homeless in his wallet. He wasn’t sure why, but it didn’t seem like a particularly smart idea. He took out two singles and handed them over. Generally, the sooner they got the money, the sooner they left.

“I don’t have anything to spare,” Olivia said, smiling apologetically. “Sorry.”

The homeless guy nodded. “It’s all good, baby,” he said, quietly, counting the money. “It’s all good.” He stuffed the money into his own pocket, looked around, and didn’t leave right away, the way Dylan was hoping he would. Instead, they were going to have to sit around and deal with this awkward silence thing that came up sometimes. Where everyone just stood around and looked at each other, as if there was some missing link of conversation that they needed to explore or else risk losing it all. Whatever it all was. That, or they really would have one of those strange, occasionally troubling conversations that sometimes came up as well.

It was on him to wrap things up. “Well, man, listen, we gotta be heading inside.” He had done this speech a few times before. He knew what to say, how to say it, and generally how to avoid any trouble. “So, you take care of yourself and—“

“Do you guys like to get high?” he asked.

Shit. It was one of those guys. Shit, shit, shit. Dylan wanted to roll his eyes. He wanted to punch the guy in the throat and roll him into oncoming traffic. He should have seen this coming. He really should have seen this coming. Now, they were going to have to sit here for the next few minutes and convince him that they did not in fact like to get high. Shit. Goddamnit. It was a huge hassle. One of those deals that sucked the minutes away from life itself and left nothing ventured and absolutely nothing gained. “Not really,” he said, looking to Olivia, hoping she could maintain.

Olivia smiled, looking away slightly. For a moment, it was the smile of a thirteen-year-old girl who had just been asked out by the cutest boy in the class. It was embarrassed, suddenly shy. Scared? It made Dylan incredibly nervous, though he couldn’t immediately say why. “No,” she said, carefully, looking past the window and over to their stuff. “I’m fine, too.”

“You sure?” He glanced around. The few people that were outside were not paying attention to him at all. He leaned in a little. “I got a lot of stuff to get rid of, you know? A lot of different stuff. All appetites, baby. All kinds of bullets. You sure you’re not interested?”

She laughed and nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m absolutely sure.”

Dylan looked at her, then at the homeless guy. If he were any good at this, he would be able to see the thoughts that were running through Olivia’s head. He would be able to see that as recently as a couple months ago, she would have told him that she was very interested. All Dylan could do was stand there, wait for this to pass, and hope this guy was a shitty drug dealer. He wasn’t sure how else he could contribute to this and still stay out of trouble. Because that was the key to surviving any Greyhound trip that lasted longer than a day, avoiding trouble like the plague. He looked to think he was pretty good at it. He didn’t think Olivia was though.

The homeless guy shrugged, still glancing around here and there. He had all the time in the world. It was suffocating him, and he knew it. “Well, listen. My name’s Rudy, and if you need anything, just come on out here and look for my ass.” He laughed at that last part. It had to be one of his favorite lines. “I’ll be around.”

Olivia was already halfway to the door back inside, but she still turned, gave him that tired smile she had down so well, the one that was probably adding a decade onto her life of just trying to hold on to it. “Sure thing,” she said, before walking to the door, opening it, and stepping back inside.

Dylan was right behind her, avoiding eye contact with Rudy and not saying a word until the door was closed behind them. When they were back in, he looked at Olivia and half-expected her to finally collapse under the weight of what she had just gone through. But she didn’t. She held herself together. Or at least, she did a really good job of pretending. She smiled at him in that way that she smiled. “That was sure my idea of a good time,” she said, laughing grimly, still moving towards their seats.

They sat down. Dylan was now trying to think of something he could say that might help. Anything he could say that might do her a little bit of good, kill the self-doubt that had to be running through her mind of whether or not she had done the right thing. She had to be kicking that around right now. He wanted to say something about that, something that would make her feel good. But he couldn’t think of a single thing. Yeah, he had done some drugs, but he was pretty sure that his experiences were nothing like hers. Speed and Percocet had taken on small problem status in high school, but it was never anything truly serious. Both of them were gone as soon as it became a pain in the ass to do them. He had never really gone through any kind of addiction thing. It was just a question of stopping something he had kind of gotten used to. And it had been a pain in the ass, but he had done it without too much trouble. Olivia’s decision had obviously been forced on her, and he knew it. Some people liked to exaggerate their drug stories, give them a shine and a sense of brutality that made them sound good over a couple of beers or a cigarette. Olivia was not one of those people. And there was nothing he could say to make her know that he understood that.

She was back on her magazine now. A look of strained comfort was painted on her face. She couldn’t hide that no matter how hard she tried. “I can’t believe we have like three more hours in here,” she said.

“I know.” Maybe, this was the best way to go. Act like it had never happened. “Three hours of smoke breaks, shitty, expensive food, a TV with the mute button on, and all the Pac Man we can possibly stand.”

“And each other,” she added. “Don’t forget we’ve got all that stimulating conversation.”

“Oh yeah.”

She was quiet for a moment. “We’ve done all right, passing the time on that.”

He picked up his book from off of his rolling suitcase and put it in his lap. “Yeah,” he agreed. “We’ve done a pretty good job of surviving.”

“I still don’t think I’m ever going to take Greyhound again,” she said. “I don’t think I have it in me.”

No one did. Dylan had yet to meet someone who actually took the Greyhound by choice and was glad to do it. No one could be that much into the pain and pleasure cocktail, with the emphasis on pain. He wished he could say that he was finished with them, too, but not being able to get a driver’s license kind of made it hard to get picky about how he got around. He couldn’t drive, he couldn’t fly, and hitchhiking anywhere further than a hundred or so miles was just out of the fucking question. Until the green card came through, which was still just an absurd thing to demand of someone who had been born in the great foreign empire of Canada, he was pretty much stuck with Greyhound until further notice. He envied anyone who actually had choices, and was always astonished that people still went with this. Was this really worth the couple of extra bucks you saved? This wasn’t an easy, cheap way to get across the country. This was an arthritis machine that took ten years off your life and forced you to see people as they really were. He wanted to tell her that, but he couldn’t think of a way to make it funny. He just nodded and opened his book to the bookmark. “Yeah, I know exactly what you mean.”

There was a long silence between them after that. And it took Dylan a second to figure out that it wasn’t because she was mad at him for being useless or anything like that. It was one of those silences between people who were comfortable enough to just sit there, read, and keep each other company by shutting the fuck up for two whole minutes. Dylan hadn’t realized that their relationship was already at this stage. This shouldn’t have surprised him though. The fact that he was coming around to this conclusion at all had to be some kind of low-rent miracle. Perception was not one of his great skills. It ranked right up there with bowling and oral sex.

“Do you know what I’m going to name the baby?”

Then it was over. No big deal though, because the comfort of knowing that he had at least been able to see it. The thought of it had put him in a strangely good mood–for the moment, anyway. Dylan didn’t look up from his book, as interesting as it was to hear this. “Dylan?”

“Sorry, no.”

“Damn the luck.”

“Warren.”

“Like Warren Zevon?”

“Who’s Warren Zevon?”

Dylan tried not to do his elitist jerk ass sighing thing. “The guy who sang Werewolves of London.”

There was a pause. “Sorry.”

Dylan laughed for a second. He was tempted to sing some of the lyrics. People always picked up on the song after a few lines. “No worries.” He turned to her. “In all seriousness, that’s a really good name.”

She smiled, and it almost looked like something besides tired. That was exactly what she wanted to hear. More so because she had to know he was serious. “You think so?”

“Absolutely.” He glanced at the clock without meaning to. Still entirely too much time left to get through. “Where did you get the name from?”

“I dunno,” she said. “I’ve just always liked it. It just seems like a name that you can’t fuck with.”

It certainly did. Dylan had met a couple of Warrens in his life. They all had this tough, intelligent guy gimmick going for them. A little fucked up, too, but that usually never really hurt anyone. It was a good name. It made him think that it was a hell of a lot better than his own name. “It’s definitely better than my name,” he wound up saying.

“Dylan’s not so bad.”

“Yeah, well, you don’t have people over thirty coming up to you and telling you that it’s so great how my mom named me after Bob Dylan.”

There was another pause. “Who’s Bob Dylan?”

This time, he couldn’t resist it. He had to give her that look he did so well. He had to give her the what-the-fuck-is-wrong-with-you look. He didn’t want to, but there a very real threat of his head exploding into a thousand unrecognizable pieces if he didn’t. It wasn’t that he was mad at her about it. Disbelief was a better word. How could anyone not know who Bob Dylan was? He looked at her. “You’ve gotta be kidding me.”

Her expression was deadpan, a mixture of confusion and deadpan. And then, it cracked a little. A small smile appeared in the right corner of her mouth. It widened a little, it widened a little more, and then it fell apart into a good ten seconds of laughter. Exhaustion had nothing to do with this. “Maybe.”

Oh. Wow. That was good. That was really, really good. He had always prided himself on being a good bullshit artist, both giving and receiving, but he had to admit that was good. It had been a long time since someone had caught him like that. Middle school? Maybe? In any case, it had been a while. He had to admit it. “You got me,” he said, smiling in spite of his surprise. “Happy?”

She nodded. “Just a little. Don’t think I haven’t noticed the way your face scrunches up when I say I don’t know someone that I obviously should know under penalty of death.” She laughed at that, which made Dylan laugh a little, too. “Has anyone ever told you that it’s really fun to screw with your head?”

If he were the kind of guy who turned red, he’d probably be doing it right now. “I’ve heard it once or twice.”

She grinned. “I bet.”

He looked at her. If their ages matched just a little more, if they had met under better circumstances, they might have actually made something out of it besides a really good temporary friendship. The best one he imagined he would ever get out of traveling on Greyhound. Showing her stuff like Warren Zevon and Tom Waits would be half the fun. Whatever happened between now and Richmond, he knew he was going to miss her. Not obsessively or anything like that. But for a good while, she was going to pop into his head now and again. He could see that happening pretty easily.

Keep the conversation going, he thought. It was up to him to say something clever now and keep them moving along the way they were going. Clever was the most ideal, but simply funny could work pretty well, too. Or even just a single serious line to move things forward and keep them going that way would be fine. Just like before though, when it had come around to him to say something encouraging, he was amounting to nothing he could use. His mind was empty, too bruised and battered from being on the bus since Tuesday, from being in wonderful places like Texas and Arkansas. All he had were complaints about the things they had both been complaining about off and on since they had met. There had to be something better than that. It was almost never this difficult to think of something. Even nine times out of ten, he could drag something out of his ass and come out ahead. This had to be the one bad number in the lot. But it didn’t have to be. Even a fucking conversation starter would be fine in the moment like this. It didn’t have to be revolutionary, and it didn’t have to change the course of someone’s life forever. It just had to be something they hadn’t already talked about. There was a lot of stuff like that about. It was around as much and as well as it always was. It was just a question of picking something out, holding onto it.

“Feel like another smoke?” she asked out of nowhere.

He nodded, immediately resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to do better than one more nail in the lung cancer coffin. Maybe, getting back outside would do some good, do some damage against this claustrophobic’s worst nightmare. “Well, if there’s one thing I do well,” he said, “It’s chain smoke.”

“Me too,” she said, getting up. “It’s the only thing I haven’t been able to kick.”

And he had it. The useless bit of trivia, the chunk of conversation that was going to be worthless in memories. But he still finally had it. “It could be worse,” he said. “My mom smoked through my pregnancy and my three brothers and sister, and every last one of us turned out just fine.”

They got to the door, and Olivia held it open for him to walk through. “Really?”

“Oh yeah.” He turned to face her, once he was outside. He already had a cigarette and lighter in his hand. “I mean, my brother Connor, he’s twelve, and he’s got mild asthma. But that’s genetics more than anything else.” He lit the cigarette. “My grandmother had it, and my mom doesn’t. Skips a generation.”

Olivia had a cigarette and lighter in her hand as well. But she wasn’t lighting it. Her focus was on looking around the outside area, where not much had changed since the last time they had stepped out all of fifteen or twenty minutes ago. Everything was cracked, overused, and tired in the worst way possible. The ground was dirty, and the air was stale and apathetic. Nearby, a single tree shrugged its shoulders against the light wind. As if it was saying that it knew what was up, but couldn’t be bothered to care beyond that. “Interesting,” she muttered, distracted.

Dylan looked around as well, trying to see whatever it was that Olivia was looking for. There wasn’t anything going on that was worth hunting down. Buses were around, a handful of people were wandering the small malevolent landscape, looking just as lost, confused, and annoyed by the whole mess as they were. He couldn’t see it, whatever it was, so he went back to looking at her. It was a much better sight, all in all.

“Listen,” she said. She finally lit her cigarette. “I need you to do me a favor.” She was still looking around, but not as much and not as obvious. “It’s really stupid, but it would mean the world to me.”

“Anything,” he said, trying to look casual, even cool about it. He meant the words, too, so that probably helped. “What do you need?”

“Remember that guy that was here before? The one who offered to sell us some shit?”

“Yeah.”

“If he comes back here, I want you to pretend to be my boyfriend.”

He thought about that for a moment, but it still didn’t make sense. “What?”

She was looking at him now, but she was also trying to keep an eye on the small corner of the world that she could pay attention to. “If he comes over here again, and if he tries to talk to us, I want you to pretend to be my boyfriend and get really, really pissed off at me for even thinking about it.”

He thought about that. As far as he could tell, this wasn’t actually a bad idea. “Thinking about…”

She nodded, because he didn’t actually need to come right out and say it. “I know it’s stupid, but it might help.”

His answer should have been obvious. The really selfish way to look at it was to think that it would also kill some time. The necessity of that was still very much there. But more important than that was the idea that this could work. Performance was one of the few things he was consistently good at. You had to be, to get through things like high school and holding on to the few people who could stand the sight of you. He even had a little bit of acting experience he could draw on, though nothing exactly similar to this. “That’s fine,” he said, still trying to act cool. “But I don’t even see him around.” Which was true. Unless he was around the corner, at the main door, he was nowhere in sight. He didn’t see him coming back either. Guys like him seemed to have a terminal ADHD curse that haunted every stumbling, stuttering revolution that they tried to start on every street corner they could stand the sight of. Staying in one exact place for more than five seconds was a death sentence of a very real kind.

He definitely wasn’t within earshot. That was for sure.

“I know,” she said. “But I was just want to make sure.”

“I know, but you really—“

There he was, Rudy, coming around the corner. His hands were on his pocket, a smile on his face of a guy whose optimism was unwavering, never exhausting or running out of air. The secret to his happiness wasn’t much of a secret at all, but he sure did make it look easy. If he had been on the streets his whole life, it wouldn’t have surprised Dylan a bit. Guys like him could live forever on ten bucks and a good sad story. He glanced at him again, and almost put a hand on Olivia’s arm when he saw that Rudy was looking right towards them, picking up the pace of his walking a little. He almost grabbed her arm, but he managed to maintain. This was going to be easy, he told himself. This wasn’t going to be a big deal.

Olivia’s poker face wasn’t perfect, and it wasn’t going to last, but it was good for the moment.

“Sup, guys,” he said, smiling. “Back out here already?” He glanced at the cigarettes, chuckled, actually chuckled, and shook his head slowly. “Man, you know, there’s better shit out there for you than those goddamn things.”

Knowing he was going to have to do most of the talking here, Dylan smiled. “That’s what I’ve heard. But hey, I look cool when I do it, so what can I do?”

Olivia laughed at that. Or she forced herself to. Either way. He couldn’t tell for sure.

“There’s better shit for you,” Rudy repeated. “At a hell of a better price, too.”

The son of a bitch didn’t waste any time. Dylan wondered if glaring was the right way to respond to bullshit as profound as what Rudy had just said. He didn’t want the anger to come out of nowhere and look like something that was tacked on and forced at complete random. He should have been building up to it as soon as their eyes met. It had to look real, which really wasn’t going to be that much of a problem, and it had to look good. Looking good was going to be the tricky one, and he was worried because he was already questioning himself about it. Just going with it was a better idea anyway. “We’re not interested,” he said, shooting for strained polite. “Sorry, but no thanks.”

Rudy just looked at him and didn’t say anything at first. He flashed a creepy, slow smile. “That’s cool, man.” He nodded, perfectly at ease. These were his clothes, his street, and his world. He was confident and not the least bit worried. A little brain damaged, maybe, but not out of his element. Dylan knew he had to keep telling himself that. “But what about your lady?”

Were the proceedings supposed to move so damn fast? He didn’t even look at Olivia. He had an idea of how to move with this, and it didn’t involve any uncertain glances at her. He had to make it look like this was his own problem and his own confrontation. “Excuse me?”

He was still grinning. Like a half-retarded shark, he was still smiling like he was already closing the deal. “Did you ask your lady here if she was interested?”

“I don’t need to,” he said. He shook his head. Amazing, how well this was actually going. He had expected this to be a little rougher, and there was every indication that it could still go that way. For now though, he was doing better than he would have guessed at holding up his end. “She’s not interested either.”

“Did you ask her?”

“I don’t need to ask her,” he said, taking a step closer. Careful with that though, he thought. This couldn’t fall into a fight. That was the last thing he wanted to deal with. For starters, he wasn’t sure he could win against guy who lived in a place like this. Home field advantage wasn’t just a lousy sports cliché. Second, he was starting to wonder if he had been right before about Rudy not packing anything. He still didn’t think so, but paranoia was hovering in the background, making things a little more complicated than they needed to be. “We don’t fucking want anything,” he went on. “Okay? Is that alright?” Careful with that, too. Don’t want to sound too high-pitched or nervous. Confident. Confidence. Those were the big words here. It was the temporary religion he had to pretend he had been used to all his life, rather than trying to make sense of the little bursts of it that made a half-assed attempt at appearing in moments like these.

Rudy took a short step back, but he acted like it was what he wanted to do anyway.  “I think I wanna ask her first, man.” He grinned. “Just so I know for my own sake.”

It dawned on Dylan that in spite of his appearance, Rudy might have very well gotten through high school. Dylan could remember going to his own school with guys just like him, guys who survived on average intelligence and an attitude just like his. Wandering through the thin, claustrophobic hallways with half of one eye open had been a way of life those sad sons of bitches. He was never really good at dealing with them then, and it was becoming more and more obvious, a blinding speed towards realization that got deeper every second, that he should have considered this a good few minutes ago. Now, it was too late to do anything but just try to get through. He was completely incompetent against Rudy’s type. He was just prone to small mistakes he had a hard time covering.

It also dawned on Dylan that Rudy might be messing with him. Most guys would have gotten the hint a good few sentences ago. Rudy was letting this drag out on purpose, like it was all out of boredom, killing a little time until something else came along. That, or he was out of his fucking mind. “I don’t think you need to ask her shit,” he said at last. The real miracle here was that he had yet to trip over a single word. “I think you need to leave us the fuck alone, before I go in there,” he pointed behind them, “And tell the guy behind the counter to call the cops because some drug dealer won’t leave us alone whenever we go out to smoke.”

Rudy was still grinning. The guy was probably a bitch to deal with when he was high. Dylan still hadn’t decided what his drug of choice might be. “That’s how you wanna go, huh?” He shook his head, his eyes darting away ever so slightly, as though he were taking a moment out of this to enjoy a private joke of some kind. He came back to Dylan, but he didn’t stay there. Instead, he went to staring ahead to Olivia, who was looking away from both of them, smoking, looking strong and also as though she could fall apart at any moment. Rudy looked to her, past Dylan, twenty miles past Dylan, and grinned again. “What’re your thoughts on this matter, baby? You looking to get something together?”

At that moment, Dylan decided to make a serious mistake. But he didn’t decide on it until about two seconds after he had actually done it. And then after that, a second or so later, he was wishing he hadn’t. His hand was on Rudy’s arm now. Not gripping it or anything, but still there, brushing against it in a way, as though this would be enough to stop him from taking even one more step closer to her. “That’s enough, man,” he said, conscious of his voice shaking a little. Hopefully, it wasn’t enough to be really obvious. “Just back the fuck off, okay?”

In the time it probably would have taken to take a picture of this scene, the length of the time between pressing the button, the flash of the moment, and the completely different moment that’s left in its place, in that moment of time, Rudy shoved Dylan back so hard that he almost fell into the wall. His eyes, his mouth, his battered face, even the way his body looked under those rags. Everything changed into something that better resembled a serial killer or someone with an extreme bi-polar disorder. “I wouldn’t fucking do that, kid,” he said.

Dylan half-expected him to start foaming at the mouth. He leaned against the wall, needing it for something to lean against, because he wasn’t sure he could keep it together on his own. “I—“

“You don’t fucking touch me,” he said, shouting all of a sudden, drawing stares from the small handful of people that were also outside. Stares, but no effort to get involved or get someone who could do something about this. Not only did that require work of some kind, but it also spoiled a potentially good floorshow. And you just couldn’t have that. In Memphis, it was almost understandable. “You don’t lay one fucking hand on me, ever, fucking ever, do you fucking understand that? Do you fucking get it?” There was a bit of a snarl to every word. It was almost as though he wasn’t speaking to Dylan anymore. There was someone else in front of him, someone who had to be constantly spoken to like this.

Sadly, he was still like a lot of the guys he had known in school.

Rudy was muttering under his breath now, talking to someone else. Dylan wasn’t sure how to respond to that. Rudy wasn’t the first crazy he had ever met, but that didn’t really seem to matter at the moment. It felt as though it may as well be the first crazy he had ever met. And because of that, he wasn’t sure where to go from here, what to do. He was just a spectator now. Rudy had the stage now. He had the stage, and he had a dance partner that had probably been in the ground for twenty years.

“I wanna go back inside,” Olivia said, her voice barely above a whisper.

That would work, too. Immensely grateful for the decision being made for him, he slowly turned his back on Rudy. He worried briefly that he might use the chance to take a shot, but the fear was a moment later, when he was opening the door for Olivia to go back inside. He took a step in, but holding the door open, he looked at Rudy again.

“You goddamn bastard,” Rudy said, shouting again. “You think you’re hot shit? You think you’re something?” He suddenly smacked the wall with his hand. “Well, you’re nothing. You’re not a goddamn thing in the goddamned middle of nowhere.” He took a couple of steps back, and he almost toppled over his own venom. “Stupid motherfucker,” he said, still walking backwards, until he was at the corner. “You don’t ever fucking touch me.” He turned and disappeared around the corner of the building.

Dylan could still hear Rudy talking to himself, even when he was out of his sight.

He went inside, and he felt as though he was breathing for the first in at least five minutes. The rest of the terminal was pretty much the same as it had been before. People sitting around, waiting, glaring at each other and at the TVs hanging from the ceiling, eating terrible food in the dirty cafeteria. Everything was the same as it had been before, and Dylan felt like telling himself that. He wanted to repeat it in his mind until it was concrete.

Olivia was in her chair, one hand on the armrest and the other across her face. She was there, but she was obviously putting her time and energy into something else, some other place. He saw her sitting there, and he wanted to think that she was going to be able to do what had just happened on her own. He really wanted to believe that. He shrugged it off as best he could, which wasn’t very well, and he walked towards and his own seat. “You okay?” he asked, lamely.

She looked up. He had somehow startled her. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m fine.” She shook her head as though she were pulling herself back into the present. “I’m just tired and a little fucked up, you know?”

He did, as a matter of fact. “Yeah,” he said, as he picked up his book to sit down. “I think I can relate to that a little.” When he was seated, he looked at her again. He wanted her to say something. It was annoying to be right back where they were before they had gone outside. And thinking of that shit to say outside had been difficult enough. He had felt empty before, but now, he was a lot closer to it than to the weary exaggeration from earlier. Barring some magical shot of conversational inspiration, he could see himself being tapped out for the rest of the day. The real problem was that the only thing he could think to do was go to sleep. Not say something funny, or even, somehow, something that would make Olivia believe that she done the right thing. All he wanted to do was close his eyes and arrive at two or three hours later. But it was early afternoon, and he wasn’t even close to pretending he might be tired. The only way he was going to pass the time now was to sit here, live through it, and hope Olivia said something to keep their conversation going. Things could change in a couple hours, but right now, he was absolutely worthless.

Olivia made a move like she was going for something in her bag, but she stopped and leaned back into her chair. She was on the verge of tears. “You know what’s funny?” she asked, brushing a strand of hair aside. “I’m not even sure I want the baby.” She laughed grimly. “I’ve never thought about having kids, and when I found out I was pregnant, my first thought was what I was going to have to do to get rid of it.” She clasped her hands together, put them between her knees, and looked down. “I mean, I’m not big into abortion or anything. I figure it’s a person’s body and all that shit, but it’s not like my one answer to something like this.” She paused. “I’ve never been pregnant before, so I’m not any kind of voice of experience on this.”

Dylan nodded. Say something, he told himself. Say something, you stupid asshole. Even if it’s as simple as just telling her that he agreed with her. This shouldn’t be the driving point of the entire day, but it was quickly turning out like that, and the thought of wasting a day on thoughts like looking cool in front of a girl that was probably going to forget him in a month’s time was horrible. Laughable. Pitiful. All of the above.

“But that was the first thing that popped into my head, getting rid of it.” She moved her hands from between her knees and sat up a little, her eyes moving up to the TV closet to them. There was some news story on about a man walking into a Wal-Mart dressed as Batman, the Adam West version, and opening fire on the place with an AK-47 and .357 Magnum. “It’s not like I love my life or anything, all the shit I do, but I was kinda used to it. I haven’t been happy in years, but I had worked really hard to even get to that point, if that even makes any sense.”

He wanted to tell her that it did make sense, but he didn’t think it would matter one way or another if he said that. So, he didn’t.

“I had a good routine going, and it was weird to suddenly think that I would have to throw it all in the air, if I decided to keep the baby.” She was still staring at the TV, the caption at the bottom about the death toll being somewhere in the forty-seven range. But the alcoholic delivering the story was quick to make it clear that forty-seven was not the final number. “The idea of starting again, having to make all the same mistakes and wonder if it might somehow magically turn out better or different this time, really just didn’t appeal to me at all. It kind of scared me to think that I’d actually have a chance again, especially when I don’t really do all that well with making the right decision.” She turned from the TV to him. There was some kind of forced trust in her eyes. Between the two of them, there was a world of how difficult it was to share all this with anyone, let alone some asshole she had just met the other day. “But then, I dunno, I woke up the morning after some stupid party, and this was like a month ago, and I’m laying on the floor in my underwear, and I could still remember all the ridiculous shit I had done the night before. One of the sad things about me is how I can remember almost everything from the night before, no matter how fucked up I might get.”

He was a second too slow to catch himself, so Dylan wound up laughing at that  without meaning to. It was only funny because he was pretty much the same way. He wondered if he should clarify that or not.

She closed her eyes for a second, smiling strangely. “And I was laying there, thinking about the baby and not really wanting to, and I thought ‘I’m twenty-five years old. Do I really wanna be doing this shit when I’m thirty? Is this really any better than how scary it is to have to start all over again?” She picked up her purse. “I decided that it wasn’t, then I changed my mind, then I changed my mind again.” She laughed a little at that. “And then I changed my mind again, and a couple more times after that, and I guess on the last one I got enough balls together to ask my mom for some money so I could come home.” She sat up a little. “And the funny thing is that I still don’t know if I’m actually doing the right thing. I keep changing my mind.” She laughed yet again. “Isn’t that horrible though? Isn’t that just really fucking stupid?”

He shook his head to make it clear to her that it wasn’t. Most of what he wanted to say right there was kind of pointless to express with words. A simple nod or shaking of the head would work just as well. It wasn’t that he was overcome with emotion. He had heard sad stories before. Some of them were hauntingly similar to Olivia’s. It wasn’t that at all. He just didn’t think it was worth wasting her time with the kind of thing just anyone could say. Maybe, it was the stress of the trip back home. Maybe.  Hours stacked on hours in a rolling sardine can could strip anyone down.

“I couldn’t tell you if I’m going to make it through the week,” she went on. “Without doing something really stupid.”

Why he was so obsessed with this was a really fucking annoying mystery to him. He was forever pulling this shit on people. The older he got, the further he seemed to get from the talkative little kid he used to be. But he still wanted to say something. He felt like he had to. She was sharing the world with him, sharing a lot more than she was used to, in this miserable fucking bus station in the middle of miserable fucking Memphis. And all he could do was nod like an asshole and obsess about how he was looking through all this.

Christ, did yet another cigarette sound really good right about now.

Rudy was gone now. It was probably safe to head out there.

Olivia stood up slowly. “I need to use the restroom,” she said. “I’ll be right back, okay?”

He looked at her and nodded. “Okay,” he managed to say.

She turned to walk off towards the bathroom on the other side of the terminal.

There it was. It hurled against him in a flash of seconds-long inspiration. He grabbed it and immediately began a steady jog. “And hey…”

She turned towards him.

“When you get back, I’ll tell you about how I got kicked out of preschool when I was three years old.” He even somehow gave her a little smile. Goddamnit. Why hadn’t he thought of this one before? Sure, it was the standby to end all standbys, but it was better than nothing. He couldn’t believe he hadn’t thought of it earlier.

He expected her to laugh at that. But instead, she just smiled that tired smile he had seen the first time they had met. She just smiled at him. At him and no one else. “I’d like to hear that,” she said quietly. She glanced behind her. “But I’ll be right back, okay?”

“Okay.”

He watched her go, then glanced up at the TV, having nothing else to do. The story about the McDonalds thing was still running its course. In an hour, some other biblical prophecy would come true, and they’d be talking and over-analyzing that instead. It was like the summer movie season. The movie that pulled in a billion dollars in its first week and opened at number one might drop down to tenth place and take in just a couple of bucks in the second week. And all because of a couple new titles hitting the scene. Far more exciting ones, with better explosions and a more interesting cast of losers, victims, and psychopaths. Unless he absolutely had no choice, he tried to avoid the news as much as humanly possible.

Not much was going on outside, judging by what he could see from where he was sitting. He was partially debating that yet another cigarette, and he was partially looking to see if Rudy was anywhere. In all likelihood, he had found somewhere else to prove to the rest of the locals how committed he was to being the craziest fucking drug dealer this side of Graceland.

Overhead, there was an announcement about possible delays. They didn’t say which buses this applied to, but they advised everyone with earshot to stay tuned for further details.

Fuck it.

He stood up, pushing his small carry-on aside with his foot as he did. Whenever Olivia got back from the bathroom, she could look outside and see him, if he was still out there. Anyway, it was always hard to sit around these places for more than fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. You could only watch the news and play Pac Man but so many times. He stepped away from the seats and towards the door, pushing it open to take in the stale, humid Memphis air one more time. He had the cigarette and lighter out of his pocket and in his hand before he even took one step into the little outdoor smoking area. One cigarette, maybe even two, and then he would head inside and stay there, God’s truth, for at least an hour or two.

Or until Olivia wanted another smoke herself.

Whenever she got out of the bathroom.

He lit the cigarette and took a long drag that was a lot more satisfying than it should have been. As long as they had Greyhound, the news, and morons, he couldn’t imagine ever giving up cigarettes. Cutting back, maybe, if he magically learned some self-control in the next few years, but not outright quitting. He shook his head. No. Never. It was never going to happen.

He took another drag. The smoke felt good. It felt better than a crappy cheeseburger or a warm soda from one of the broken vending machines. He took another quick drag and wondered when he should call home to check in and make sure everything was okay. He took another quick drag and decided that the story about when he was kicked out of preschool a lifetime and a half ago was a good one. It was a funny story, if he told it right. She’d like it. He could see her getting a kick out of it. Eighteen years of working on that story, it better be one of the better ones in his arsenal.

He took another drag, and he felt something strike the back of his head. An arm or something that was blunt but not too heavy. He didn’t have a lot of time to think it over. Everything went into the sharp focus of going all over the place. Anything but thinking and reacting in fragments wasn’t going to come together. He stumbled forward, half-blind, and turned around just in time to get a kick in the stomach, followed by a series of what felt like forearms to the back of his neck and head. Getting kicked was bad enough, but because the forearm shots, he didn’t have enough time to separate the two. It was all just a series of painful bursts that forced him to fall onto his arms.

“You fucker,” Rudy growled. “You goddamn fucker.”

For a second, he almost felt like saying something to that. But for one thing, he couldn’t say much more than a couple of letters in between gasps for air and a clear line of vision. For another thing, Rudy was on him with another kick in the stomach before he could even think of what it was he wanted to say. That last kick was a good one, too. It sent him rolling over onto his back, where he laid there with his eyes shut and the thought that he could very well die in the next few minutes.

“Goddamn you,” Rudy said. “Fuck you, and fuck you, and fuck you.”

And then he ran away. Just like that. Someone hadn’t beaten him up since the fifth grade, but he couldn’t remember it ever being anything like this. Usually, he was able to do a better job of putting up a fight.

The few other people outside had gone out of their way to avoid getting involved. Which was fine it of itself, because Dylan knew he would have done the same thing. With Rudy gone, they started to circle him like a bunch of compassionate vultures.

A fat guy in an old Chicago Bulls jersey was standing right over him. “Shit, kid, are you okay?”

“Don’t worry about it,” Dylan heard himself say. “We were just talking about his homosexual brother’s car. It happens.” He felt like passing out, but he didn’t. He really wanted to just knock off for an hour or two, but he didn’t. He just laid there and decided that if he did die here on the floor of the smoking section of the Memphis Greyhound bus station, which he knew he probably wasn’t going to, then at least he was going to close out with a good line.

Like something out of a good black and white movie. Something with a low budget and good characters you could really see yourself getting into. The characters might get on your nerves a little, but in the end, you’d leave the thing thinking that they were mostly likable and really not so bad. Some of them might not make it, but that part would be open to interpretation.

As a few more people started to gather around, and somehow, it was more than had actually been outside, the one thing he could think about was how much of a shame it was that Olivia hadn’t been around to hear it.

Really, she would have liked that one.

It might have even gotten a good smile going.

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