Thirty-five: Fig

For a moment, because the street lamps glow so dull in my window, I believe it's early morning. I struggle from the nap-sleep, and I know it's time to leave.

I smear Old Spice on my armpits, feel saliva gather under my tongue, spit sideways onto the carpet, question myself, glance a text from Vito ("margaritas and stargazing, be ready"), pull on a white shirt, drop underwear in my backpack, walk to the bathroom, piss with the door open, Everett passes by, says, "Fifth Friday in a row."

I call after him, "Excuse me?" I zip my jeans and pursue him to the kitchen. He's bending into the refrigerator, back to me, and retreats with a carton of figs. He pops open the box, picks up an ugly fruit the color of dried blood, bites. He's letting the shadow on his upper lip grow.

"What does fifth Friday mean?" I ask.

"You so let things get to you," he says with his mouth full. "You know what it means."
"What, that I'm hanging out with Vito?" I grip the edge of the countertop. "Are you counting? Holy fuck, you're counting."

"You've slept there for the past five Fridays, Rosco. Slept there. Plus a couple Saturdays." He drops a stem in the sink. "Mom is starting to favor me."
"Right. Well, I'm sorry you lack friends." He rarely goes out now, has dared to brag only twice about excavating a date from this suburban rubble. Nothing is consistent, aside from how he wallows around the house while I bound out the front door to Vito's car because, despite my efforts, despite my love for my mother, and Bo, fuck this. Fuck Everett's myopic bubble. It drives everyone away. My mom is not here; out dancing with widowers, I hope. Bo, practically having adopted himself out to another family, is probably trying drugs or watching porn with friends, and that's fantastic, I am so glad he is not here, being poisoned by too-cool-for-therapy-Everett.

"I like to imagine these things as your eyeballs," my brother says, biting into another fig, chewing, swallowing. "I also don't believe that Vito doesn't roofie you and ass rape you every weekend, and somewhere deep deep inside your reptilian brain you love it love it love it."

My phone chimes from my room. "Have fun alone," I say, flicking him off. I answer the text, sling on my backpack, walk back through the kitchen, Everett is swiping tears from his face, the refrigerator is open and the light is white and hideous all over him, something metal is being tossed in the washing machine; I exit through the front door and sweat gathers at my hairline as I cross the front lawn, inhaling tonight's irrational heat. I toss myself into Vito's BMW, and he says, "Not listening to Radiohead until now has been the most heinous mistake of my life."

"Not murdering Everett has been the most heinous of mine."

He laughs. "You like saying those things, don't you."

I wish Everett and I had the audacity to punch each other again in replacement of tiresome dialogue. I wish I didn't have this black gut, guilt-induced obligation to watch dumb movies with my mom, finish my homework at the kitchen table, or rinse the milk out of my cereal bowl. But I try to be good during the week so I can be gone, fucking gone, come Friday.

I face Vito on the floor of his walk-in closet. We've lined the bottom of the door with a damp towel. His parents don't actually care that we smoke weed, but we enjoy acting surreptitious. They would, however, care about us drinking their really nice whiskey, which we're suckling straight from the bottle and feeling awfully devilish and giggly about. There is something sacred about our Fridays now. Sure, I revel in that. We did try to include Mason, but once he realized getting fucked up is part of the ritual, hairs stood on end.

"Baby tension," Vito had explained our first night without him.

"Or abusive addictive father tension," I said. "Both."

"It's different," he said. "It's okay."

Now we're tipsily looking through his exorbitant amount of band shirts, deciding which ones are so awful that they'll be cool in ten years, and which ones need to be thrown.

"Okay, I'm thinking—I'm thinking that we'll wear only white, black, and grays from now on," he says. "And really wide pants. Think The Talking Heads."

"I like blues." I fold a shirt in my lap.

"Honestly I'm big on lavender. And polka dots. Okay, we'll figure it out."

"But no more scenester bullshit," I say.

His arm shoots up in the air, finger pointed. "I'd like to implement a drinking rule."


"You only drink if you say something confessional."

"Oh, fuck that, dude, come on."

Vito careens forward, a drilling gaze. "No—yes—no—okay. I drink if you disclose, and vice versa."

"It's dangerous," I say.

He leans back and claps his hands together once. "Yes. I'll go." He holds the bottle towards me. "I love you."

I wave him off. "That doesn't count."
"It's good enough. Drink. You can use it on me, too."

Grumbling, I tip the bottle so that the whiskey hits the back of my tongue. Still stings. I set the bottle down. He's staring at me, tugging on his lower lip. He nods his head. So I say, "I'm scared."

He chuckles and drinks.

It's too quiet; we both agree. Vito plays Deerhoof's Friend Opportunity off his phone. I decide it's time and start smoking from Vito's beloved elephant-shaped pipe. I light a green corner, inhaling from the trunk, wondering if the music will tweak me out. Too late. I give him the pipe. He scoots back until his back hits the door. "You're my best friend."

"That's dumb. You can have more than one best friend."

"There can't be multiple bests. I officially favor you," he says. "Fucking drink."

I do. I'm not confessing anything else.

Vito takes a pink shirt from the unsorted mound and drapes it around his head. "Will should've changed us."

I roll my eyes; he's about to think he's so deep. Demen is an inevitable subject nowadays. We have a particular inclination to call him Will, normally when we're intoxicated. "You're letting him be too remarkable. Stop with the effort."

"But that's just it." He's gestures, white lighter in hand. "I'm feeling so unaffected. I wanted so badly for it to be poignant." He shrugs. "But now it's just the past. It's frightening me,

how the past forms."
"It's good," I say. "It's apathy. I mean, Everett is sad. I can't handle it. Though I'm not really apathetic, I guess." I sink my forehead into my hands. Briefly, I imagine him in his bedroom, right now, no music playing. "He was crying when I left. We're assholes now. Like, truly awful to each other. I'm so mad at him that I can't feel bad. I prefer hating him. It's easier than love." My throat tightens. "I think."

Liquid sloshes and Vito gulps once. "You're beating me at my own game," he says.

Smiling, I lift my head. "Do I win when you throw up?"

"This isn't about winning." His eyes, too big, always, swim with drunk . "None of this wasted stuff, now, Rosco, we can't shit out now. One of us has the last drink. Battle for the best confession. Try me."

"I got this!" I hoist to my knees. Everything tilts but I'm good. "A couple weeks ago, I jacked off to a photo of Izzy, one on Myspace, and I came on my keyboard and maybe shed a tear."

He busts out in laughter. "That's beautiful. Oh, man, you beautiful child."

The laughter subsides. "Well—" He presses the cut crystal bottle against his forehead, slumping. "I've masturbated to a photo of you. Like, on Myspace, also. But I didn't cry."

The toe of his shoe. A black scuff mark. That's it until an uproar of prickling starts in my body; heated, tiny parts vibrating inside but I cannot move as a whole. I'm holding my breath so I try to breathe and I sound terrible, my chest giving in and out very, very succinctly. The whiskey bottle is set firmly on the floor in front of me. The throat feeling returns fast.

"Fuck that." Throat so tight I can't even speak loud enough. I squeak. "Come on, man. Come on. Fuck that. Fuck that." Saliva seeps upward from below my tongue and I swallow it. It wells up again, tasting sweet. I stand, thrusting my arm through hanged dress shirts, hold myself up with the wall. I step, step, step, reaching over Vito's head and I open the closet door and shove past him, knocking his head with my knee.

"Fuck you, Vito," I say with actual voice. Closet light at my back. My shoulder rams against the doorframe. Through the dark hallway and I'm in the bathroom. I smack my hands on the wall until I find the switch. Hospital light blares. There's his stupid purple rich boy toothbrush. I take it in my hands and try to bend it. I squat and lodge it under my foot and break it in half and throw it across the tile.

I lower to my hands and knees and crawl to the shower and let it all out over the drain. I heave so hard I think my shoulder blades touch. I sink down, until my chest is flat to the floor.

Some time must pass, I'm sure. The stale smell of sick floats.

He walks in and turns on the shower. Lukewarm water envelopes my head. Something cold drizzles after it. Floral and mint. It's him; it's his smell.

"The shampoo," I say. "It's the fucking shampoo."
He shuts the door on his way out. I manage to sit up. Manage to undress. To stand. Then lather, clumsily. It would be an appropriate time to cry, but I don't. I focus on not sinking.

I throw up again. I make the water cold and open my mouth at it and glug until my stomach feels full. I sit. I try to be certain about anything. I think, I must be so creeped out. Everett can never know. I'll have no one this summer. The dizzy slinks back and I have to stop thinking. So I shut off the water. I use a hanging towel; it's damp, but I use it anyway, realizing as I leave that a fresh one was left on the counter, along with a shirt and boxers. Like a damn hotel, or a wife, or a mother.

Dressed and quivering, I go back to the bedroom. All the lights are off. Vito's upright in his bed, left side, smoking the same bowl and watching Akira.

"I'm still drunk," I say, standing there.

"Me too." Not looking at me.

"I'm pissed."

"I saw my toothbrush."

"I'm tired."

"You can get a sleeping bag," he says. "Hell, we have a spare bedroom."

"Yeah, sure, either. Where?"

"Find it yourself." Lips puckered, he expels smoke. So I sit on the floor in front of the television. "I'm wearing a shirt," he says. "I'm wearing two pairs of underwear. And a chastity belt."

I wait a few minutes. I wait as long as I can until it feels tiresome and childish and I give in and climb into the bed, right side, and sit with my knees tucked to my chest.

He offers the pipe.

"I don't want it."
"You'll sleep better," he says. "You can wake up and call your mom or whatever, go when you wish, but you'll at least be sober and presentable." He nudges my chest with the pipe. Sighing, I take it.

He lies down. "I'm sorry for being selfish. But I think you're pretty damn selfish, too. You know that."

I do. And I don't smoke. I wait until his breathing grows and evens and then I lie down. Voices wail from the television, sounding until I sleep.

The dawn light is yellow and muted; rain clouds have gathered early. My tongue is a fossil. I drink sink water from my cupped hands in the bathroom. I rinse some pale chunks from the shower, shoving them down the drain with my toes.

I return to his room. I look out the window. It's some really rare light. Dust-covered. Reminds me of something. I check my phone: a text from my mom reminding me to be careful. The pipe is in the middle of the bed, tipped on its side. I knock ash into a wastebasket and nestle it in Vito's sock drawer. I try to rub away the ash in the sheets with my spit. It smears black. My mouth is drying up again, fast. I get into bed and lie flat on my back. I watch the ceiling fan whir a white circle and hope for thunder. A day-long storm, even.

Things get quieter. Vito shifts next to me. "You haven't left."

I breathe, dangle one leg off the mattress. "I haven't stopped thinking about leaving."

He says, "You haven't left."

I imagine being home, in my room, drawing my hand, drawing it badly, hearing Mom put away the dishes, clanging, hearing Everett's computer mouse click, bug pincers, I imagine being there, as alone is possible there, and trying to be understanding, every grating second, trying to be understanding, all of us in that house, trying to be understanding.

I shut my eyes; my pulse swells in my ears. I'm spending the night as my grandparents', and I'm scared of ghosts. I can't bear to speak to my brother. I thrum on my back, petrified.

The bed wavers as Vito sits up. I feel him hovering over me.

"You know I'm trying, right?" I ask. I open my eyes and see his eyes. One is closed, and one is open. Another kind of blue in the storm light. I tell him, "I'm trying."

Final Author's Note:

So I'm going to assume I'm talking to air, which is cool.

To this day, though mostly humiliated by much of this story, if only for the indulgent style and some insensitive content (humans as caricatures, some white-centric stuff, yikes)...nonetheless, to this day, I'm seriously touched by the response I've received from readers. Even those, if not especially those, who seemed to question why they kept reading, and those who became angry with how I built up to the last chapter then didn't post it for four years.

It happens. I got a BA in Creative Writing (though I'd never use this chapter as a testament to that), and once I pursued the degree, finishing LBC seemed, uh, untimely. I truly love these characters, despite all the silliness; there's always been something serious brewing that never really surfaces.

So, I'm a post-grad, and it popped out. I'm okay with it; as okay I can be with this degree of melodrama. I will be astounded if anyone who read it years ago gets the satisfaction of reading this, and I won't be surprised if it's not all that gratifying. And the writing style is crazy, like streaming poetic boom-boom-boom shit because, truly, Rosco's voice won't be the same, so this is the best and most honest version of him now. (It's difficult to write a realistic sixteen-year-old when I'm twenty-two. I'd probably increase their ages if I ever rewrote these characters into whatever scenario called them. Which has already started happening. Rosco starts out with a ponytail. And all the names change because, really, Demen? Anyway, it's great.)

Yes, the drug stuff is cheap, but I wrote this to be honest with where these characters were traveling. It's not always attractive.

I purposefully made things vague and open-ended, particularly for Rosco. There's few answers written out, that's for sure. If anyone does end up reading this final chapter, I'll answer any question. Any curiosity. Discuss whatever you wish to discuss. There's a lot of tensions that aren't solved, but that's not quite the goal of this ending. I'm still uncertain about this baby, but it's where a four year hiatus took me.

I'm curious to know what everyone's hopes and dreams were, takeaways, disappointments, so on and so forth.

Much, much, much love.