This is Vince emboldened…
This is Vince in control.
This is Vince with fate firmly in hand. All of his plans for the summer, his future, were neatly in a row. No one could have done it better, it was impossible to consider; only Vince.
The fact that the season of Vince would begin with a holiday only proved that destiny had decided to pass on control to him, it could not be a beautiful coincidence. For this is Vince, the new Picasso, with nothing holding him back. The art world would henceforth be defined as before and after his arrival, with this moment, this day, being the quiet middle of expectation.
This is Vince emboldened…
“I can’t believe I’m having this gathering,” Ralph sighed to Vince. They were both standing on the dock, and neither was really looking at the water or enjoying the heat, both unnatural in a very natural setting.
“Let it go,” Vince said. “It’s done now, Ralph.” Vince considered taking off his black long coat, but changed his mind, liking how it added to his image. He wanted to feel something more than normal today. There would be some convincing to do later.
“You do know this is a bad idea?” Ralph asked. Vince glanced at Ralph and noticed that he was staring now at his wife and her rowing partner; they were talking over on the other side of the lake. (What was her name again? Stacey? The quiet depressed one, Vince thought. She wept when the mural was done, Vince remembered her tears.) Ralph was nervous, he was fidgeting. The energy around Ralph bothered Vince.
“For you it’s a bad idea,” Vince finally said. “For me, there are some people I have to see.” Vince stuffed his hands in his pockets and began walking off the dock back to the cottage. It should be cooler inside he knew; in other words, more comfortable for him, his coat and his image. His image would thrive there. “Plans are in place, Mr. Mason.”
Ralph paused at that and then ungracefully ran to catch up to Vince. “Wait, Vince, wait! Did you schedule this party—make me go through all this work—just so you can have a meeting?”
Vince stopped, playfully sighed as he turned around, and then lightly patted Ralph’s face. “Ralph, enjoy your party.” It was moments like this that he loved his British accent. It felt so right, especially with the added little pat, pat. He even considered pinching Ralph’s bottom but decided against it, worried it might send the wrong message.
“I just can’t believe you wanted to come along,” Bob said for the third time.
Rebecca adjusted her sunglasses and stared out the window of the car, repeating the lie she came up with and used for each of the two previous times. “Vince and Viv will be there and I feel I owe them an apology after that dinner. I was rude. And they’re your friends.”
“Sure,” Bob said, still not too convinced. “But you’ve been sick for the last few days.”
“Oh, it was just a stomach thing,” Rebecca said, no longer surprised how easy lying was becoming to her. She had been lying to Bob again since the wedding, not sure why or what she hoped to accomplish with it. He was staying with a friend from work after that Thursday (spending the first night in his office) and after two dances at the wedding she was able to persuade him to come home. He even wanted to sleep with her that night, but she didn’t allow it, using her stomach as an excuse. Yet, now when she studied him as he drove (with his two-days’ worth of stubble, cargo shorts, and rock t-shirt, he was trying to look younger she reminded herself), she couldn’t help but wonder exactly why she went to the trouble. A harsh thought, but a decidedly honest one.
Things were different, evolving around her. Her logical and insightful brain was planning, planning, planning. She brushed off the concern around Bob (not worth it to worry about yet), and thought again what she had to do once she saw Vince and then… then she began to mull over names again.
“Good.” Bob said quietly. He then reached over to the stereo and turned down the classic rock music. “I’m glad you’re coming today, I am; and we need to prepare. Do you know whose house this is at?”
Rebecca didn’t care, but she played along as she carefully laid her hand on her stomach, a new gesture she had been doing a lot. (In there, in there right now, she thought soothingly.) “No, whose house?” She asked calmly.
Rebecca looked at Bob confused.
“The Mason fortune?” Bob asked, as if it was so obvious. “You’ve not heard of the Mason family?” He was shocked.
“Well, most colleges have a building named after them.”
“Well, not yet,” Bob said. “But if I can get in good with Ralph, it could in the future.”
“I don’t understand,” Rebecca said quietly, really she didn’t care. She played along, it didn’t hurt to do it. Yes, she was mentally and emotionally in a very new place since the revelation of that Saturday morning. Strangely, she had to admit, this shift had helped to focus her, helped her to decide what she wanted and what she was working towards. An interesting twist to the last three months of madness.
“A family like that is always doing something around real estate and construction. That is how they made their wealth originally, real estate. If I can build a friendship today, maybe even lock down that business relationship for the future. And Ralphie boy, who we are visiting…”
“Ralphie boy?” Rebecca interjected. Ralph? She did not like the name. Ralph Stanley? No, it was out of the running if it was a boy… It was then, right then, that Rebecca realized she was not even using Bob’s last name when thinking of the child. The realization made her sit up straighter. Yes, things were very different around her now.
“Actually, Ralph Mason the third,” Bob corrected. “He’s the heir. I’ve done my research, Bec. I know his interests; I know his family, their collections. I’ve read a dozen articles or so. I’m ready to become his new best friend. Do you know what that would do for my career, my life?”
“Great changes and transformations,” Rebecca replied, almost as if to herself.
“The biggest,” Bob stated and turned his sports car into the giant driveway of the large cottage. “Look at the size of that cottage, Becky! If I pull this off right, I can get you a house just like that.”
Rebecca didn’t want one, but didn’t say.
An hour later, Vince had actually taken off his coat (deciding that it was best to abandon his image for the time being) and was in a lawn chair outside pretending to be asleep. He really had no choice. It turned out that since he kicked Viv out of his apartment, she had been living with Ralph. And the indoors, because of her, was not the protective haven from the heat Vince had hoped it would be.
Since Vince’s arrival she had attempted once to slap him, begged him twice for them to get back together, and then tried to seduce him in a closet… and that was only in the first two hours.
So here Vince was, hiding in plain sight, only listening as the occasional cars pulled up. He had counted two so far. The only obvious arrival being so far Mary. No one made an entrance like Mary. She demanded attention.
When Vince heard Bob and Rebecca arrive (Bob loudly and almost too enthusiastically greeting Ralph at the door), he almost considered getting up but decided against it, the pretending of sleep was beginning to have an effect on him. Bob was friends with Viv, Vince reminded himself, and it all felt like too much work. Maybe he really could take a nap? He had been so busy. Vince laid on his side and was about to doze off when…
“Vince.” The voice startled him, and it was spoken so quietly, so delicately.
Vince peeked an eye open, but only one. “Yes?”
Rebecca was sitting in the chair next to him and she was shaking her head. “You’re pretending to be asleep? Has the life of a successful artist in hiding come to that?” She was wearing a pair of jeans and a shirt, the casualness of it almost surprised Vince. Had he never seen her dressed casually before? The difference was almost jarring for someone with Vince’s eye for detail.
“Illusions can make some things easier,” Vince said with a yawn. “And I have been very busy.”
“Yes, it has been a very busy season for you, hasn’t it, Vince? A lot has happened since we met in Chicago so long ago. Changes for you, changes for me.” Was she actually trying to reminisce with him?
“And I see you’re calling me Vince again,” Vince replied, closing his eye once more, trying to tune her out. “I thought you considered me the leech.” Even with his eyes closed he could feel the discomfort from Rebecca. “A parasite is the other word you used. Parasite and leech. Happy Memorial Day, by the way.”
“It was harsh, I admit that,” Rebecca said, bitterly (Yes, Vince could hear the bitterness), but when she spoke again her voice was more urgent, almost pleading. “But this is important, and I’ve only a minute to talk before Bob comes out here. Please.”
Vince got up, finally realizing that no amount of fake snoring could have saved him. “Professor-Dr… Oh forget that, I’m done with cute nicknames. We have left that playing field; the game is done, isn’t it? Could we have had something great if we continued? Yes, certain, but what we had was enough. Just enough. And it is something worth celebrating, and will be. But I’ve moved on. And since you both came together, you clearly still have your loyal little husband. That’s where things stand. So let us go our separate ways, leave it to the history books. Unless you have more insults to throw my way? I’m all ears. I’m sure with time you could do something better than leeches, especially with that creative and well-read mind of yours.”
Rebecca didn’t reply; she appeared at a loss for words.
“Silence, really? Well, there you go.” He turned away from her.
Rebecca got to her feet as well, Vince noticed that she took a sideways glance into the cottage to see if anyone was paying attention to them (no one was). He hated that he noticed that, and also that he cared a little that she did it, and it made him angry at both her and himself. “I came here with Bob to talk to you about something, Vince, please.” Rebecca begged. “This is really important.”
Vince sighed a very great sigh, remembering then something Ralph had said about a cooler and drinks. Drinks sounded good. “Oh, my sweet, sweet muse, I would quote Tennyson here, but I don’t have the energy. So let me cut to the chase, throw away the poetry; I don’t think there is anything, anymore that you could say that would interest me.” And with that dramatic pronouncement he turned and walked back to the cottage. How many ex-lovers was he going to deny today?, Vince had to wonder. This was feeling like a record.
“Okay,” he heard Rebecca mumble to herself as he strolled defiantly away, proud, head held high. “Fine, okay…”
I glanced over at Marty. It was so unlike him. The quiet, the introspection. We had been thirty minutes in the car and he had yet to say anything to me. I mean, I liked the silence but this was just off putting and so very weird.
Not a peep. Not a word.
Unnerving. That was exactly what this was. Unnerving. Of course, having been a friend of his for years, I knew exactly the right nerves to hit to start him talking. Yes, I could undo do this easily enough. Watch my magic wand! “So I’m surprised you aren’t driving with your sister.”
Marty grunted and finally joined the land of the living in my car. “She didn’t want me to go.”
“Why?” I asked curious.
“Vince,” Marty said simply.
I didn’t have to ask further, my suspicions about Viv and Vince since the Wednesday visit to Vince’s apartment becoming quite apparent to me from Marty’s reaction. Poor Marty. “I’m sorry.”
“I’m going to punch him,” Marty said, crossing his arms.
“What?” I almost laughed.
“Did you laugh?” Marty asked, angrily.
“No, not at all, of course not,” I said and tried to focus on the road, hoping that would hide my smirk.
Marty continued, “I know how to punch! They train you on stuff when you go into security you know. I know moves.”
(Stuff and moves?) “No,” I said quickly. “It’s just…”
“It’s just what?” Marty demanded.
“It’s just,” I started again, now allowing my smirk to show, “I was hoping to punch him too.”
Marty paused and turned in the passenger seat to study me. He was not expecting this. “Why do you want to punch him?”
I thought about how much I wanted to share and started a little delicately in my response. “He stole something of mine,” I replied. “And like you I also have someone who didn’t want me to come today. So we have a lot in common, it seems.”
“Jenn,” I answered as I turned onto another road. “She has left three voicemails about it. One just this morning.” To think I almost slept with her! I almost shivered at the thought of it now.
“Can I hear it?”
“Knock yourself out,” I said and handed him my cell phone. “You need to click on…”
“I know what buttons to push,” Marty interrupted (it still took him three attempts). He then moved the phone to his ear and quietly listened to the message (I could hear some of Jenn’s muffled voice, even from that distance it grated on me) and then put it back down by me when he was done. “What letter was she talking about?”
“It’s from Anna. It was her goodbye letter and Vince stole it.” I said and, without meaning to, began to drive faster. I noticed the change and slowed down.
Marty considered that point for a bit, I could tell he wasn’t so certain. “And he kept it hidden that entire time?” Yeah, Marty didn’t sound like he believed it at all.
“Yup,” I said, not having the energy to say anything more. The last thing I wanted was a debate, with my plans so assuredly in front of me. And until I saw Vince I wanted to keep it close, like a spring loaded in a jack-in-the-box.
Marty nodded and looked out the window. “I get to punch him first though.”
“You can try,” I said and felt my lead foot accelerate the car again. This time I didn’t slow down.
“There is one Vince again,” Vince mumbled to himself at the sight. “The world is once more complete.” For there was Marty, running up to him and his hair and attire were almost completely back to normal. Vince began to drink from his second beer. Typically, he didn’t like beer, but it was a holiday. Didn’t Memorial Day demand it in a way?
Behind Marty, Vince could see Steve getting out of his car; he also seemed in a rush. The look on Steve’s face was… Vince was trying to find the right adjective for it, when Marty walloped him one on the side of the face with his fist. “What?! Marty! Fuck!”
Vince bent over rubbing his face, the beer dropping at his feet, breaking on the ground.
“That’s for Viv!” Marty declared, his hands now at his side but still in fists.
“Wait, are you saying you’re angry at me for breaking up with her?” Vince asked while bent over. It surprisingly hurt a lot. “Jesus, Marty.”
“No,” Marty said, shaking his head.
“Then was it for me sleeping with her? She seemed to like that.” Vince straightened up. He considered getting a new beer but decided against it. There should be drinks more to his liking indoors. He had given enough to Memorial Day he decided.
Marty raised his fists to punch him again. “It’s for you sleeping with my girlfriend.”
“So what you meant to say,” Vince corrected, “Is that that amazing punch was for you. It was not for Viv.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right.” Marty paused, his anger subsiding a little at the thought. “You thought it was amazing?”
“Yes, it still hurts. And Marty, you couldn’t have been surprised?”
“About everything,” Vince stated. “You changed to look like me! I even saw this coming, and usually I don’t see anything unless it is something I want right in front of my face. You and Viv were barely on my radar.”
“But you slept with her!” Marty said, waving his finger angrily. It almost looked like a gesture someone did dramatically on a stage, not in reality.
Vince shrugged. “She offered. And your relationship already felt doomed.”
“Doomed?” Marty raised his fists again quickly and then… paused, lowering them down to his side. “I… it was doomed.”
Seeing his friend in front of him, so hurt, Vince actually felt guilty. He then said without really thinking about it, “Do you need to do it again?” He really hoped Marty would say no. “I’ll hold still if you need the punch, just try to avoid the eyes.” Vince knew he really wouldn’t hold still but it sounded nice to say it.
“Ah,” Marty didn’t know how to reply. “I… I think I’m all right now.”
“Great,” Vince said and pointed at the cooler. “There’s beer in there. It’s paid for by Ralph so drink a few on me.” Marty awkwardly opened the cooler and began to sort through the ice.
“Vince!” Steve shouted, which was odd Vince thought since Steve was now almost upon them. Why the need for a shout? Determined, that is the adjective I was looking for before Marty’s aggression, Vince thought. Determined.
“My architect!” was all Vince was able to say before Steve punched him on the other side of the face.
“Fuck!” Vince shouted and bent over again, now he had a hand on each side. The back door of the cottage was thrown open, and Vince could see out of the corner of his eye Jenn and Gordon running out. “Steve! What did I do to you? At least Marty made sense! I probably deserved that punch.”
“Thanks,” Marty replied hesitantly, opening a bottle.
“That really hurt,” Vince exclaimed stating the obvious.
“It was supposed to hurt!” Steve shouted. Gordon ran up behind Steve, grabbing his arms, holding him back. As Steve struggled to get free, Vince had never been happier that Gordon was in their lives. (Marty the security guard was just looking on, watching like one would a stage show.) “Where is my letter?!”
“What letter?” Vince asked, shouting back, almost mocking Steve’s volume. He reached down to the cooler, grabbed two handfuls of ice and placed them on both of the cheeks on his face.
“Steve,” Jenn tried to interrupt. Vince glanced back at her and was pleased to notice that her hair was no longer white, but now black. Actually, she was wearing all black. It was not goth, but something someone wore when they were dramatically mourning; mourning when you want people to notice that that was what you were doing. Vince quickly collected a few sarcastic things to say to her about it later, after this was done. “Steve, wait a second…”
“My letter!” Steve continued, not paying any attention to Jenn. (That is interesting, Vince thought, something happened there.) Steve looked like he was about to punch again, and tried to get out of Gordon’s hands, Vince immediately backed up a few steps.
Steve’s face was so red; Vince had never seen his friend like this before. “You stole my letter from Anna!”
“What letter from Anna?” Vince demanded, his hands were getting cold and wet from the ice. It was clearly not working. “What letter are you talking about?”
“Of course, you would forget,” Steve said with a roll of his eyes, lowering his hands. “This is so fucking typical of you, Vince. You allowed me to suffer for months because you forgot. Did you take it on a whim? This is my, life Vince. Just give it back!”
Vince glared to Jenn, suspicion crossing his face, and bravely took a step towards Steve. He dried his cold wet hands on his pants. “Steve, please, think for a moment,” Vince was trying to sound calm, but he was not sure if he was pulling it off. “Is the letter for me?”
“Would I be mentioned in the letter?”
“Probably… not,” Steve said, his energy draining a little.
“So knowing that and knowing me, why would I want something that doesn’t have anything to do with me or my art? You know how selfish I am. The world revolves around me Steve. It revolves around only me, remember?” It sounded almost sweet even in Vince’s ears.
Steve turned to look at Jenn, confusion taking over his face. Gordon loosened his grip on Steve’s arms. “You said…” he started to say to Jenn, but he lost his words.
Jenn was looking at the ground, with her long black hair over her face and the dress. Vince considered comparing her to something from a horror movie or book, but it felt too easy. “Steve,” she began and then even Vince was startled to hear her say it. “I have the letter.”
Gordon let go of Steve’s arms altogether. Steve looked like he was losing his balance as he turned to face Jenn. “You said… you said Vince had it.” He looked like he was going to fall, his face pale, Gordon grabbed him again, but this time for a different reason than before.
“I know,” Jenn said, she still could not look him straight in the face.
Vince found all of this fascinating. He went over and stood near Gordon. “It’s like a movie.” He said, while rubbing his jaw, the Marty side.
“You said he was going to use it in a piece of art?” Steve said, waving his hand towards Vince.
Vince almost coughed in surprise as he asked. “I was going to use a letter in art? How?”
Jenn then peered up, but to glare at Vince; and then reluctantly focused on Steve, choosing not to answer Vince. “Steve… I lied.”
“Thank you” Vince said, and reached down to get more ice. “Now someone can apologize to me. Marty?”
“Fat chance,” Marty said, he was opening his second beer, which was interesting since Vince knew what a weak drinker Marty was.
“Steve?” Vince asked, continuing his apology tour.
“What? No, not yet,” Steve replied, holding up his finger for silence, turning his attention back to Jenn. “Why did you take the letter and why did you lie?”
“Because… I love you?” Jenn said awkwardly.
“Jenn!” Vince shouted aggravated, even Gordon rolled his eyes in annoyance. Steve glanced at the two of them and back at Jenn.
At that moment, Vince didn’t know how it happened, but Jenn seemed shorter, younger, all of the strength that usually defined Jenn and her power, slipping away all together, leaving only the tiny and too-thin wisp of a woman in her mid-twenties behind. “That’s a lie too,” Jenn sighed, her voice breaking. “I’m… well, I was… I’m not anymore. I can’t anymore, but I am… was… was writing a book about you.”
Everyone stopped. Gordon and Marty both looked from Steve to Jenn and back again.
Steve paused. His mouth opened as if he was about to speak and then shut again, astonishment crossing over his face. “A book on me? Why?”
“Am I in it?” Marty asked sheepishly.
“It doesn’t matter now.” Jenn said, speaking only to Steve. “It’s done now. It’s ruined and…” She couldn’t finish her sentence. Vince was startled to see she was crying. No one moved to comfort her, all so astonished by this new expression of emotion.
“And you took the letter?” Steve’s face suddenly turned angry again, as realization after realization crossed over him. “Just… Shit, Jenn is that why you’ve been asking me questions, visiting me? Talking to me? Is this all part of some kind of twisted research? You’ve been lying to me for months! You’re sick! What else have you been doing? What else, Jenn?”
Marty and Gordon both were watching transfixed (Gordon’s mouth was even hanging open). Yet, right then all Vince wanted was an icepack for his face. In his mind, he could already see where the entire conversation was going. His own need was more important, maybe he would get some pain killers too?
“You might want to stay here, Gordon,” Vince whispered in Gordon’s ear, Gordon nodded, showing he had heard Vince over the yelling. Vince then patted Marty on the shoulder. “Sorry, good punch though.”
“Thanks,” Marty replied.
“I’m going to go now,” Vince said, stepping away quickly.
Vince entered the cottage via the door from the den. Even in the cottage he could hear the shouting from outside (Wait until he gets to her visits with Anna, Vince thought). Bob, Mary, Viv, and Rebecca all looked over at him as he entered. Mary and Viv were at a window watching the shouting match outside (Rebecca and Bob standing more apart).
“Is no land safe for Vince?” Vince wondered aloud as he walked over to the freezer.
There would be no icepacks there.
“Stacey?” Lilly began hesitantly. She spoke like one did at a funeral approaching a mourner.
Stacey did not turn around. She was by herself once more sitting on the shore, looking out over the lake. She did that a lot, especially since the doctor had changed her medication for her depression. Yet, it wasn’t like she would get lost in a thought; no, this was more like being underwater with no sounds around, no thoughts to haunt her. It was more than a peace, it was an emptiness. “Yes, Lilly,” Stacey said, so very quietly.
“You don’t have to be here for the party,” Lilly said, she awkwardly reached over and touched her partner’s shoulder. “You can go visit your family.”
“I have no family,” Stacey replied, simply. On other days, the memory of that would have made her more depressed, thinking of her divorce and the loss of her parents; but now with this new medication it didn’t matter… Nothing really mattered. She almost wondered if this is how death felt, assuming you could still feel anything after death.
“I thought you had a sister?” Lilly asked, taking a seat on the sand next to her.
“Oh, yes, there’s her, but she and I don’t speak. She’s younger, you see. Much younger and…” Stacey didn’t have the energy to finish her sentence. It all felt exhausting. And really what was the point?
Lilly put her hands in the sand, running her fingers threw it like a rake. “I’m sorry about Ralph.” She quickly glanced up at Ralph, who was talking to Vince on the dock.
Stacey looked to Lilly with her dead eyes. If she had the energy she would be frustrated that they had to talk about her difficult husband one more time. “This isn’t about Ralph, I got used to him and his jerkiness months ago, I had to. And frankly, he pays well, so who cares?” Stacey said and turned back to the lake, hoping that that explanation ended that part of the conversation. “I’ve always had mood swings, Lilly. It’s one of the reasons I like to think I was a good athlete. If you catch me at a moment when my mood is up I can take on the world. It’s just when I’m down, I am…. We have distracted the depression for months, now with the weekend off and the new drugs well…”
“Was?” Lilly caught the use of the word by Stacey. “You are a good athlete, it is not past tense, Stacey. We did so good on Friday.”
“Yes, we did.”
“And our first competition is in three weeks. We may be considered the underdog going in, but we will show them. We will.”
“Yes,” Stacey said and tried to smile. It wasn’t a real smile, it was one she was creating solely for Lilly, and she could feel each of the muscles in her face that it took to form it. “You don’t have to worry, we’ll be all right. It’s a day off, Lilly. This is how I spend it. This is my plan for the day.”
“It’s not normal,” Lilly said.
“It’s normal for me,” Stacey replied, thinking that her husband didn’t understand it either. Who could without having the same issue with depression? People with depression suffer from loneliness because of this fact all the time.
Lilly reached over and took her friend’s hand. “Are you at least going to come in, get something to eat?”
“Oh, I will later.” Stacey said, the fake emotion draining again from her face and voice, the warm and fake smile fading back away.
“Right now?” Lilly asked
“Right now, I just want to look at the water,” Stacey said and took her hand out of Lilly’s. Lilly waited five minutes before leaving, and Stacey did not say a single word the entire time.
Nor did she think of one.
Ralph was proud of his new grill. Vince could tell that even from where he was standing as he walked outside again; Ralph had positioned it near the front of the home, not exactly the best place for cooking, being underneath part of the roof, but perfect for everyone seeing it and him cooking with it upon arrival. Vince even guessed Ralph put it together, being that it appeared a little haphazard and less than safe.
Vince began to wonder if he had enough energy (and patience) to join Ralph, but changed his mind as Lilly walked up to her husband. The way she approached him made Vince think it was time for a retreat… yet… yet… he decided to instead stand alongside the cottage, and listen. He had never seen Lilly look so determined before. It reminded him almost a little of how Steve looked when he approached him earlier (Is she going to punch Ralph? He wondered evilly; a part of him would’ve liked to have seen that). And, frankly, it was as safe a location as anywhere else in the house. Vince was regretting he didn’t take a drink with him during the escape; however, he had just taken pain killers, best to wait a bit. In the distance, he could still hear Jenn and Steve shouting at each other; further proof to him of the hassle of the party he was escaping with this location.
Lilly spoke first, “Ralph.”
“What is it Lilly?” Vince was a little surprised by how cold the tone was from Ralph.
“We need to talk.”
“Is it about Viv again? She’s only here until…”
“No,” Lilly interrupted, “it’s not about her, whatever she means to you. I want to talk to you about Stacey.”
Vince sat on the wooden floor of the deck and crossed his legs. He considered meditating and then decided against it. He never could turn his mind off enough to mediate so why start now? Yet, it might look cool; he did like to look cool.
Vince began to work through his plans again (enjoying the moment of silence), but stopped when he heard the deep sigh from Ralph. “What does she want now?” Ralph asked after the sigh. Vince could picture the expression on Ralph’s face. It was not a good expression. He vividly could recall it from each of the times he had asked Ralph for another “grant” after one of their “visits.”
“She doesn’t want anything, Ralph. You don’t even know her.”
“Do I need to know her?” Ralph asked quickly. There was a loud clang noise. Vince guessed it was the top of the grill slamming shut. Yeah, that grill did not sound sturdy (Vince began to think how wonderfully symbolically it all was for Ralph).
Lilly began to whisper quickly (Vince actually had to concentrate more to hear it all, missing a bit of the beginning of it). “… your complaints. Why can’t you just listen to me once on this? Ralph, do you know how depressed she is? How much medication she is on since her divorce? She almost committed suicide once because she was so depressed; us being on a team is one of the few things that is keeping her going. Her being here…”
“Are you saying this stuff to make me feel guilty now? Make me her friend,” Ralph interjected his voice a little too loud.
“No, Ralph, I’m telling you this… because… Ralph, I want a divorce,” Lilly said, her voice so very certain. Vince had to fight himself from whistling. He covered his mouth with his hand, convinced now that it was time to move, and do it now.
Vince began to get to his feet, trying his best to be ever so, so quiet as he did it. Slowly… slowly… If he made one noise… The silence between Ralph and Lilly was so long it almost made Vince wonder if they had left the spot by the grill. He was about to take one peek around the corner, when Ralph spoke again. “You can’t get a divorce. We have an agreement.”
“Ralph,” Lilly replied. “I love her.”
“You love her?” It almost felt to Vince like Ralph threw the question back at her, mocking her. “You told me you weren’t a lesbian. Did you just change your mind? Was there a switch you flipped? If there was such a thing I would’ve known. Trust me, my parents took me to enough counselors. No switch.”
“Ralph, you aren’t making sense.”
“I’m not?.. sure, sure. How can you love her?”
“Ralph I want to help her. And…” Lilly paused, her voices sounded reserved. “And didn’t you suspect all along, really? How else can we both explain our connection? I saw in you a part of myself, didn’t I? We were both hiding.”
Ralph didn’t reply to that last point. He began to speak quickly, more professionally. Ralph was beginning to do that thing that sounded like his dad, the money man, the organizer. Vince hated when Ralph did this, it reminded Vince exactly of how old man Mason sounded when he caught Ralph and Vince together so long ago. Organizing and explaining the moment away. “I’m helping her. You and her being here, helps her. Pay checks, free lodging, insurance. It makes more sense for her, for you, for me, that we keep this arrangement in place.”
“Ralph, she needs something more,” Lilly said matter-of-factly. “And I…”
“You need something more too? So you’re both going to leave?” Ralph demanded quickly. “Just like that? You won’t even listen to reason anymore?”
“Ralph, please, I don’t know.”
“Does she know all this?”
“No,” Lilly paused; Vince could tell she was choosing her words carefully. “She doesn’t. I wanted to talk to you first, Ralph…”
“Don’t touch me,” Ralph said angrily. She must have tried to touch his hand or hug him, Vince thought.
Vince heard Lilly step back. She began again, “I won’t tell anyone about…”
Vince then heard Ralph stomp forward. Was he confronting her? Vince was starting to wonder if he would have to intervene, play the hero. Ralph’s anger could be as sharp as a knife when on his tongue. “Just get away from me, I gave you everything and you…”
“Are you going to hit me?” Lilly interrupted, nervous.
Ralph’s voice changed before Vince had a chance to walk around the corner. His voice was calm, but it was fake. Vince was certain both he and Lilly were the only two people in the whole world that could tell how fake it was. “No, I’m not going to hurt you.” Behind the fake calm, Ralph was hurt. Ralph sounded so hurt by even the idea of it. That was Ralph, right there, in Vince’s opinion. Ralph was still that child, the one wanting the hug and comfort from his parents that he didn’t get when his sister died. Vince had only a few memories of her, meeting her once or twice before the end; remembering her bald head and thinking how sadly unreal it seemed on someone so young. Oh, Ralph covered up the loss with items and events and friends and sarcasm, Vince knew that is what it was; but underneath Ralph the child was still there, right under the surface, hiding under the blanket of his distractions and illusion, wondering why the world could be so cruel to him, to her.
With the sound of the slam of a door, Vince knew Ralph had run away. Vince turned to look in the window near where he was standing to watch, but instead noticed his own reflection. Both of his cheeks were bruising…. Damn.
Ralph was pouring himself a drink and it was surprisingly difficult to do. Both of his hands were shaking. He was so distracted that he didn’t even realize both were doing it right away until he noticed that he had trouble aiming; a small puddle forming around the glass surface of the table. Finally, when there was enough there, he drank it back and then glanced around his cottage, his home.
No one wanted to be there… Not a single soul. It was such a pathetic realization that he wanted to cry and scream all at the same time.
Marty was looking on at Viv, who was doing her best not to look at him. Mary was glaring at her as well. Gordon was moving to sit next to her, but he didn’t look at anyone, happy to look off into the distance and drink from his beer.
The shouting from outside ended and Steve stormed in from another door, entrances to the cottage being on each of side of the building, this one came through the den. Angrily, Ralph reminded himself it was where he had been sleeping for quite some time. And all those boxes in there… stored away because of Stacey.
Jenn was following behind Steve. Was she trying to get his attention? He acted like he was avoiding her like one does in a game of tag. They walked past the couple that Vince invited. Ralph couldn’t immediately remember their names, but they seemed to be quietly sitting at his table in the kitchen, both lost in their own thoughts.
Then there was Stacey, Lilly’s guest of honor.
The blessed and wonderful Stacey.
Seeing her approach up his stairs onto his deck from his lake, reminded Ralph exactly why he was so angry and he poured himself another drink. This time with a lot more liquor in it. Everyone was here, all of the witnesses perfectly in place, that realization and description almost made Ralph want to laugh. Of course, he couldn’t be certain exactly why he called them witnesses in his mind just then. But it sounded right and funny.
No wait; there was one missing, one important member. He paused, where was Vince? Vince, the great. Vince, the painter. Vince, the new hero of the arts. Vince, his ex-lover.
Ralph searched around and finally found Vince, he was near the front door and he was staring at Lilly. His eyes, how he glanced at her, shocked Ralph a little… Did he know? He was outside by them, wasn’t he? Ralph guessed that because of the door Vince had just used to enter. Ralph was getting even angrier.
“Ralph?” Hearing his name took Ralph by surprise and he turned to see the stranger. What did Vince say his name was again?, Ralph asked himself. He then said in answer, “Bob, can I help you?” He was surprised at how normal his voice sounded since the voice in his head was screaming so loudly. (Ralph peered over and saw that Bob’s wife was looking at Vince. Ralph smirked remembering exactly who she was.)
Bob continued, in such an overly-friendly tone it almost nauseated Ralph, like fingernails on a chalkboard. “I read that your family has some extraordinary collections. Art, sculptures, guns, artifacts from history. Is it true about…”
Ralph smiled, thinking how everything was cruelly snapping into place, and then interrupted, “Yes, we have guns. Do you know anything about guns?”
Bob smiled back, Ralph was certain it was a fake smile, but that was okay. He didn’t care… He didn’t care about anything anymore and that felt like the exactly right emotional place to be. “Follow me,” Ralph said.
Vince did his best not to make eye contact with Rebecca as he entered the cottage. He also did his best not to make eye contact with Jenn, Steve, Marty, Gordon, Viv and Ralph (he couldn’t help looking up at Lilly). Actually, the more Vince thought about it, the more it felt like a good idea to keep his head down and avoid everyone.
“Vince,” Rebecca whispered to him as he walked passed her in the kitchen.
“Is it wise to talk to me here?” Vince asked, and then peered up, with a devilish grin, noticing Bob leave the room with Ralph. “Are you going to ask me not to tell your husband or the world about the paintings? Keep all your precious secrets…”
“This is not about the paintings,” Rebecca whispered urgently. “This is more important.”
“What could be more important than my art?” Vince spat back, not hiding an ounce of his arrogance.
The expression of shock and pain on Rebecca’s face actually surprised Vince. He couldn’t say why but it broke his heart.
A part of him almost wanted to take the words back, try to fix the situation… and he might of, he truly might of, if he didn’t hear Viv exclaim quite loudly at that moment: “Ralph, what are you doing with the gun?”
Bob and Ralph were exiting the den into the main room. Bob’s hands were up, and Ralph was leading him; and in his hand was such an old gun. A relic from the Civil War?
Ralph scanned around the room, not lowering the pistol. His words didn’t flow out of him, instead they came out in bursts, sounding almost like a skipping record, irregular. “This is no ordinary gun, Viv. Not at all. Nothing is ordinary here. We all know that. My grandfather claimed that this was the same one that got Lincoln. I decided to show Bob how to load it. My grandfather taught me how to shoot, how to take care of it. How to take care of all of his guns. Right here, right here. This gun. It has one shot in it, but that should be enough, right? Just enough.” He took a step further into the room. “I was just in the den and there are the boxes there, all from the rooms I lost to Stacey. Like everything else I lost to Stacey. Always taking. Taking. Everyone’s always taking.” He turned his gun away from the nervous Bob towards the surprised Stacey.
Bob took the shift in the attention as an opportunity and scurried to stand over by Vince and Rebecca. He took his wife’s hand. Vince glanced down at their joined hands and then looked over at Stacey who was standing near Lilly, a confused and horrified expression taking over her face. “What are you talking about Ralph? I know you don’t like me but…” Stacey tried to say.
Lilly stepped forward then, blocking Stacey, protecting her. She raised her hands to show she wasn’t going to do anything, as Ralph kept the gun on them. “Ralph, honey, let’s go in the other room and talk. You and me. Just you and me.”
“The gun was right there, Lilly. My grandfather showed me how to load it,” Ralph said quickly, repeating. He didn’t sound like himself, he sounded scattered in Vince’s opinion, like everything was moving too fast for him to keep up with. “He told me it could never be used. It was too special. Another thing denied me. So I studied it, held it, but never considered firing it and then today, finally, I thought what the Hell? What the hell, Lilly? Let’s see what happens when it goes bang.”
Lilly bravely took a step forward. Vince glanced around, everyone was on their feet and no one was daring to move. Tears were beginning to fall from Lilly’s eyes. “Ralph, please, please. Don’t hurt her. Please for me, Ralph, please.”
“You love her!” Ralph shouted, his arm stiffening. “You love her, you said it. I know how much it would hurt if I pull the trigger. I know… I know what it is to lose someone you love.”
“Oh, Lilly is gay too?” Viv asked, suddenly interrupting. The statement and the casualness of the interruption took everyone by surprise. They all turned to her, and then back to Ralph.
Ralph didn’t speak, his mouth fell open, the gun lowering to his side, stunned.
“What do you mean too?” Mary asked, all eyes then turned to her.
Viv blushed and apologetically looked back at Ralph. Everyone followed her gaze and then, at the same time, everything seemed to fall into place.
“Oh,” everyone seemed to exclaim slowly together and nod.
“Stop it!” Ralph declared, waving the gun around. “Stop it! I’m not gay.”
Vince sighed. “Just say it Ralph, it’ll make things easier.”
“Did you know already, Vince?” Steve asked.
“Vince is gay?” Bob and Marty asked together, figuring it out quickly, both were surprised.
All eyes were on Vince now. He threw up his hands frustrated. “I don’t know why I’m at the center of the attention here, and usually I like being at the center of attention as you all know. But I’m not the guy with the gun!” He paused, seeing that none of the eyes were off of him. He sighed, “No, I’m bi. Well, the better word for me is curious. There you go, I’m curious. I’m an artist that likes to experience all the world has to offer and that means truly everything. Life is a buffet, blah, blah, blah.”
It was then that Rebecca mumbled, not realizing that she had said it loud enough for all to hear, “Seriously, is there anyone here who hasn’t slept with Vince?”
Almost too quickly, a smattering of hands went up in the room in reply. Everyone scrutinized each other, taking the tally silently. Vince triumphantly smiled at Rebecca. “I’m not as slutty as you like to think, am I?”
Rebecca was about to reply but was interrupted by Bob. “Your own hand didn’t go up, Becky.”
Vince saw Rebecca was startled as she spun to her husband, who was dropping his own hand. “What?”
“Your hand. Right there, when you asked. Why didn’t your hand go up?”
“I asked the question,” Rebecca answered. “It’s understood my position.” A few around the room began to nervously giggle. She quickly glared at each of them, but it did not stop the stares and quiet chuckles that were growing in number.
Bob gazed around too, realizing something from the expression on the faces around him, and stepped away from his wife. Vince could see his mind finally putting it all together. “Wait!” His eyes then turned on Vince, anger growing. “Are you… Are you… Chicago?”
The room all silently watched, even Ralph with his loaded gun at his side watched intently. They were now the best soap opera in the room. Vince shrugged his shoulders. “Me? Bob, I don’t…”
“Just say it!” Bob shouted, interrupting.
“I’m Chicago! Okay, I’m Chicago!” Vince replied and hurriedly began to move away from him. But he quickly realized he had nowhere to really go as he banged his hip into the kitchen counter. Ouch!
Bob moved threateningly towards Vince, his finger pointed at his face. “I should strangle you right here.”
“What? Why?” Vince asked. Even in his ears it sounded phony; knowing in a part of his heart that he would deserve it.
“Vince, you ruined my marriage.”
Now the unfairness of that stopped Vince; he pointed back, courage returning. “Oh Bob, you did that when you cheated on your wife with one of her students.”
“Which one?” Jenn, Viv and Mary all asked at the same time. Vince glanced over at the three and remembered that they were all students of Rebecca’s college at one point or another.
Rebecca obviously realized that as well as she shouted, “No! No, we’re not going there! No names!”
“How does that explain the second time?” A small voice asked over near Mary. It was Marty. Marty was nervous and blushed, not prepared for all of the attention to be on him. “I mean, he doesn’t seriously not know that there are two paintings? I mean, he can’t be that stupid.”
Vince glanced from Marty back to Bob, knowing the answer to that question already. The dawning realization on Bob’s face was almost heartbreaking to Vince. “What two paintings?… The mural. You mean, the mural is…” He turned back to his blushing wife. “That is you! Everyone is looking at you! Becky? That’s you? Naked!? You’re on a freaking building!”
“Bob…” Rebecca tried to begin.
Bob didn’t let her and shouted, “I have that painting hanging on my office wall! A painting of my naked wife having an affair is hanging on my office wall!”
“I’m sorry, Bob, I’m so sorry,” Rebecca cried. Vince believed her, he truly believed her. She did look sorry. Tears were falling down her face. And Vince realized then that he had never seen her cry like that for him.
“You just had to sleep with him? Out of revenge, wasn’t it?” Bob then angrily shifted his attention back to Vince. “And you!”
Vince was startled to have the focus back on him. “Me?”
“I thought we were friends,” Bob gasped out.
“We are,” Vince said honestly.
“Is that why you came to my site? Is that why you started working with me? To get to her?” Bob asked.
Vince decided to try the honesty approach. “To begin with I did it to destroy you, but now…”
“Now what?” Bob demanded.
“I… follow my whims, Bob. Visiting you was a whim. And now we’re friends. I’m sorry.”
“I should punch you right now. Maybe Ralph should hand me the gun.”
“Get in line,” Marty grunted, before Ralph could reply, his rage from earlier returning to his voice.
“Who are you?” Bob asked, confused.
“Marty,” he replied as if it was obvious.
Oh, Marty, Mary’s brother,” Bob said, as if explaining it to himself.
Mary and Gordon exchanged glances and then looked to Bob. “Have we met?” Mary asked. “Wait, did the professor talk about me? What did she say?”
“No, I don’t know you,” Bob replied quickly. “I know of Marty from…” He glanced over at Viv, realizing he might have said the wrong thing.
“Seriously, even that guy knows about you, Viv!” Marty exclaimed. Viv was about to reply, but Marty turned his angry attention towards Vince. “I helped you break into her class, Vince! I was a friend!”
Bob was once more confused, turning to his wife. “Vince broke into your classroom?”
Marty was nodding, continuing, “Yes, idiot, yes. During her class on The Awakening. Everyone knows that.” Vince could tell that Marty really enjoyed calling someone else an idiot.
Bob glared between Vince and Rebecca as another realization began to grow in his mind. “Is that why everyone is reading… Stop! Just stop it! I read that book twice! Was I reading it too because of that interruption? God, I want to throw up…”
Rebecca walked towards her husband. “Bob, dear. I…”
“Don’t touch me!” Bob jumped back from her.
Rebecca didn’t give up. “It’s over. It was just the one time.”
“Two,” most of the room immediately corrected.
“Two times,” Rebecca amended, glaring around.
“I loved her, Bob,” Vince said, why it felt like the right thing to say, he didn’t know. But for some reason at that moment, seeing her being yelled at by Bob, made him want to protect her, take some of the blame from her shoulders.
“It’s a lie,” Jenn stated in almost a sing-song fashion loudly from the other side of the room. “He was just using her to prove something in his warped mind. I gave him her book, that’s what started it.”
Vince was about to shout something at her, when Viv joined in, “You can’t trust, Vince. He’s always using people, lying.”
“He isn’t even British,” Jenn continued.
“He isn’t British!?!” Bob and Rebecca both shouted together.
A few in the room laughed at that. Vince only sighed and swore. “Fucking hell.” He could tell that Rebecca and Bob were surprised to hear his strong Boston accent.
“And to believe people think I’m slow,” Marty mumbled.
“You are,” Mary replied to him.
“Oh, good,” Marty exclaimed, “Now Mary is going to join the fray. What do you have to add, Perfect Mary?”
“Well…” Mary began but was interrupted by Ralph.
“I still have a gun here!” Ralph said loudly. He almost seemed surprised at the amount of attention and fear that suddenly returned around him. When he raised his gun back up towards Stacey, Vince couldn’t help but think thart there was some reluctance in him as he did it.
Vince hastily scanned around the room. Everyone was like spectators, scared to move, not sure what to do… except one… and Vince couldn’t help but be impressed by Steve. “Ralph, listen to me, whatever you’re going through, I understand,” Steve said carefully, stepping forward in the path of the gun, blocking him.
A tear fell from Ralph’s right eye, but he didn’t stop pointing his gun at his friend. “Steve, you need to move.”
“No,” Steve said taking a step further.
“Steve, move! Step aside!”
“You can’t do this, Ralph.”
“You don’t understand, Steve,” Ralph pleaded. “You fucking can’t understand! You can’t.”
Steve dared to take another step towards him. “Anna left me Ralph. I know what it is to lose love, to feel like you’ve been used, manipulated by someone you thought cared for you (Vince noticed Steve’s quick glance at a blushing Jenn), to question a purpose in life. But it is always better than the alternative, isn’t it? Life goes on. Life has to go on! Ralph, let’s put the gun down. We can all move on from this. No one is hurt here yet.”
“Wait!” Stacey suddenly shouted. And all eyes turned to her. “I’m… I’m not gay.”
There was a pause as each took that information in turn. Vince could see both Ralph and Lilly physically react to that news and it could not have been more opposite. Lilly’s heart was breaking, while Ralph appeared relieved (maybe even triumphant), even though he didn’t lower the gun.
Stacey continued, turning to Lilly, her head shaking as she spoke quickly. “I’m not gay! I’m not… I’m sorry Lilly, I’m not.”
Lilly tried to grab Stacey’s hand but she pulled it away before she could. “You aren’t in love with me?” Her voice almost sounded like that of a child. Innocence was the word that jumped to Vince’s mind. (She would have appeared more natural with Jenn’s former white hair, more angelic, Vince thought.)
“Lilly, working with you over the last few months has been great. And the support you’ve given me since the divorce has been wonderful, but I’m just not gay. I’m not. I mean, I was married, my husband was a man.” She looked awkwardly to Ralph. “Not a gay man, I mean. He was a straight man.”
“But Stacey,” Lilly pleaded.
Stacey turned back to Lilly. “Did I lead you on?” Even Stacey was beginning to cry a little.
“I’m sorry if I gave you the wrong idea.”
It was at this moment, to everyone’s surprise that Gordon rose to his feet. Ralph’s arm with the gun stiffened again. Vince wasn’t surprised; most people reacted to Gordon’s bulk like that, with or without a gun.
Gordon slowly regarded the room and all of the people there and then began walking to the front door, almost as if nothing was going on at all. He was just leaving. All of the eyes watched him as he crossed that room, passing by one after another after another, each in their own turn…
Ralph shouted, his gun now following Gordon’s path. “Gordon! Stop! Stay right here. No one leaves until we decide… Gordon, get back here! Gordon!”
The screen door slammed behind him.
Gordon was gone….
The absence of him seemed to take all of the air out of the room.
All of the eyes slowly turned to Mary who was completely at a loss for words. The pause (save for a few sniffles from Lilly) seemed to go on for a minute as everyone waited to see what Mary would do, the eruption that was certain.
Yet, it was after that minute that Marty, with a point, joyfully exclaimed: “Ha!”
“Shut up, Marty,” Mary quickly replied, both immediately returning to their roles as arguing siblings.
“Brave, big man,” Marty threw back quickly, rich with childish sarcasm.
“At least he isn’t stupid like you!” Mary spat back.
“Stupid?” Marty searched around the room, as if to see if anyone would defend him… No one did.
Mary continued, her voice speaking faster. “How did you not see what was going on with Viv? I could see the end approaching for months! Months!”
All eyes turned to Viv. “We already talked about me!” Viv exclaimed, not at all liking the attention on her again.
“Just a minute,” Bob asked, disgusted, “is there anyone right now, right here that didn’t cheat or have interest in someone else in this room? Someone they weren’t supposed to?”
Everyone slowly looked around the room at each other…The only hands that went up were Stacey’s and Mary’s. While Stacey whispered “I’m sorry” to Lilly; Mary happily smiled like it was a victory. “Ha!” she said back to Marty, mimicking him.
“What is wrong with all of you people?” Bob exclaimed.
“None of this is helping,” Steve shouted at Bob and the room around him. “We can all debate our little petty issues later if you want. And trust me, I have some I want to discuss with each of you. (Vince was startled to see that Steve had glared at him first), but we’re missing the point.” Steve held out his hand towards Ralph. “Ralph, give me the fucking gun now.”
“No, it’s mine!” Ralph declared. Vince was shocked how much he sounded like a spoiled child at that moment. Ralph was about to say more, but to everyone’s surprise, out of the den behind Ralph, barreling in like a linebacker madly sprinting for the player with the ball, was Gordon!
He picked up Ralph and then slammed him to the ground!
And then in one fast swift motion, Gordon forcibly wrenched the gun out of Ralph’s hand, throwing it back into the den behind him… and there he stood, like a great animal staring down at his captured prey, taking deep breaths.
…All he was missing was the fangs.
After an awed pause, each realizing in turn that it was over, Mary gleefully shouted, “That’s my huggy bear!”
Ralph stared up at Gordon from the floor, he was holding his wrist; Vince wondered if it was broken, he wouldn’t be surprised at all if it was after that. “I wasn’t going to, Gordon… I just…”
To everyone’s shock, Gordon interrupted, speaking in a voice that was almost a little too high for a man of his size, “I know you weren’t going to, Ralph.” He peered around the room. “We all need to leave. I went out to get my phone from my car. I just called 9-1-1.”
Everyone was stunned, staring at Gordon. Vince considered for a moment that it was like as if a piece of furniture or a statue decided to talk.
Ralph was flustered, terrified. “You called 9-1-1? Gordon, I said I wasn’t going to do it. Why did you call the cops? Why?!”
“I called for the fire department,” Gordon replied calmly with his high voice. “Did all of you really not notice the smell of smoke?” Then, in an act of perfect timing that Vince even knew he could not have better orchestrated, the first part of the roof collapsed over the entryway.
The cottage was now aflame!
If you liked reading the chapter (the earlier chapters can be found on the Permanent Spring Showers page), why not check out some of my published books? I’ve had three novels published in the last few years, A Jane Austen Daydream, My Problem With Doors and Megan. You can find them via my amazon.com author page here, or as an eBook on Google eBooks here. Thanks for reading!