Present and Accounted For

Chapter Eight

The Denver airport was still quite possibly the worst airport she'd ever been to in her entire life. Only twice had she ever had to endeavor making it through layovers in this city, but unfortunately it'd now become her first and last destination had she ever decided to fly anywhere. Thankfully, she had taken it upon herself to pay the extra hundred dollars to slice the flying time in half, and instead of waiting three hours in South Carolina, plus another hour in Kentucky, and taking half a day to get to Pennsylvania, she had a fifteen minute stop in D.C., and would be seeing Milo in five and a half hours.

The first flight went relatively well. The plane was empty, usual for the first early bird flight, void of children and a row all to herself. The second plane, she had to admit, was a complete disaster--the plane was smaller, seats cramped together, and had an old smelly man drooling beside her the entire time. Not even an iPod and pack of gum was enough to keep her occupied. The last flight, although the shortest of the three, seemed to take longer than ever, with her entertainment dead of battery and no electronic service on the plane. Definitely was not the best traveling day of her life, but it finally came to an end, and her excitement built as she made her way down to baggage claim.

Over the past week she had found out about Milo's new girlfriend, a chick who she came to believe was both insane and possibly disturbed, though gave no shifty thought to the fact they would all be staying together for a week in the same, small apartment. What happened to Justin, she would never know, but it was about time to face the wrath of le girlfriend.

At least, it would have been, had she not heard the newest voicemail on her cell. Milo would be arriving an hour late, miss Juliet had a therapy session and sucked all the time she could with her boyfriend--girlfriend, however she wanted to describe her. As if that weren't the end of it all, there was a terrifying essence to the people that strolled the airport; an unsettling mixture of hicks and gun-bopping kind of people turning each and every corner. She supposed that's what happened when you enter the line of crossing redneck with thug.

Curled up comfortably on a bench with luggage at her feet and a book in hand, it didn't feel like a whole lot of time before her phone rang, a personal ring tone telling her immediately it'd been Milo trying to contact her.

"Hello?"

"Hey, I just got here. Where are you?"

"I'm still over by the baggage claim, near the door to the left."

"Oh, I see you."

"O--" Pulling the phone from her ear, she blinked as she'd just witnessed being hung up on. Turning her attention elsewhere, she caught sight of Milo, and a long, winded smile stretched her lips.

"Milo! You look so… so, great!"

Stepping forward to grab her long-known friend into a hug, she chuckled with joy and grabbed her bags.

"Hey, you too. Sorry it took so long to get here, Juliet wanted me to stay with her through therapy and I finally had to get her to let me come get you."

"Why, she didn't want you to meet me alone?" She chirped with a giggle.

"Yeah, probably. She's really not too excited about all of this."

Vanity's brightened countenance dimmed when the matter became serious, though instead of questioning it she shrugged and followed Milo to her truck.

"That's okay, I think once she meets me it won't be so bad."

"We can only hope."

x.x.x.x.x

Even after a subtle greeting from Vanity in an attempt to make a good start with Juliet, not much was said as she sat in the back seat of Juliet's truck, listening as le girlfriend bickered about her therapy session and lack of work. Milo's attention had been fully set on her, and Vanity couldn't help but notice the emotion that ran through the two of them. Though she shrugged it off, keeping good thoughts in mind. Before heading back to their apartment, the three had settled on dinner at a local Applebee's, ran a few errands, then returned to the massive area of land occupied by at least a hundred complexes. It reminded her of military housing, only fresher and not so strategically aligned.

There were three sets of stairs to climb, each with probably twenty steps on their own. Vanity knew, just by climbing the first set, that this was not going to be her most favorite part of being here. Not even halfway up the stairs she could hear an anxiously howling dog above, getting louder and louder with approach. When the door was opened, a large, black shepherd mix bounded forward and nearly knocked Juliet back down the stairs. Thankfully she coaxed the dog back inside, clearing room for Milo and Vane to enter peacefully.

"This is Midnight." Milo said unenthusiastically, turning to Vanity with an ungrateful expression. Vane gave a light smile, looking to the dog as it followed Juliet around religiously. It reminded her of a dog she'd had many years before, a black dog slightly smaller than Midnight, always sticking her nose up her mother's ass while they walked.

"Hi Midnight!" Attempting an excited voice while patting her hands down on her knees, she got a blank look from the silenced dog, then turned and trotted off toward a room near the back. Vanity cocked her head in surprise, glancing back to Milo with uncertainty. It was strange if a dog didn't like or warm up to her, all her life she'd been close to all sizes and personalities of canines. Maybe it was just the big black dogs that never seemed to like her.

"Don't worry about it, Midnight doesn't like people. She just likes Juliet."

"That's right, because she's my baby." Juliet shrieked as she followed Midnight into the bedroom, now out of sight and out of mind. Vanity glanced to Milo with a small lopsided grin.

"Didn't you buy that dog for her?"

"Yeah."

"Fun stuff." Vanity chuckled, setting her bags beside the couch and plopping down. Milo quickly followed to the opposite side.

"So, what are the plans for tomorrow?"

"Well, I have school in the morning and Juliet has work… so you can come with me or stay here and sleep in…"

"I think it'd be fun to go to school with you. Meet all your friends." She smirked, a certain level of concern disfiguring Milo's visage.

"Yeah, I just have to take my final. It's my last day, so it should only be an hour or so."

"Sounds good. Any plans after?"

"Not really… we can go wherever you want, Juliet will be gone most of the day. Though there isn't a whole lot to do out here."

"Hmm. Any malls around?"

"Yeah. There's an okay one halfway back from my school that has an arcade."

"DDR?"

"Yep."

"Sweet. We'll have to do that, then."

x.x.x.x.x

"I kicked your ass."

"Yeah, yeah… so I haven't been practicing that much this past week. Or at all, really." Vanity panted, wiping the sweat from her forehead as she hopped off the gaming platform. DDR was definitely a past time favorite for both her and Milo, but there was some obviousness that Milo had much more passion for it.

"Okay, where to now?"

"I guess back to the apartment. Unless you want to check out the tattoo shop I was talking about."

"Yeah! Let's do that." She yipped with excitement, for so long now she'd wanted to get a matching tattoo with her longtime friend, and now that they were finally in the same town she just might have that opportunity this week. Despite the fact Milo's girlfriend was not at all happy about it.

It was a twenty minute drive from the mall to get back to the apartment, just around the corner had been the tattoo parlor. Beside the shop had been a piercing gallery, a perfect opportunity for Milo to get some new jewelry for her septum as she scoped out the artists. They split ways and Vane explained to the tattooists what she was hoping for, ending up with the same ol' conclusion she was always stuck with: the tattoo would be too detailed for such a small space to put it in. Not to mention a simple outline on its own would cost at least a couple hundred bucks.

Surprised Milo hadn't returned yet, she stepped into the piercing shop and took a look around. For a few months now she'd been wanting to stretch her ears from a normal lobe size to an eight gauge, though between complications and money issues she hadn't had the time.

"Good God, you have that thing really stuck in your nose, don't you?"

Vane turned the corner and walked into the room Milo was in, sitting on the kind of laid-back chair you'd see in a doctor's office, only instead of stethoscopes and reflex hammers laying around there were hundreds of latex gloves and assorted instruments you'd expect in a classic dental horror scene.

"Shut up."

The piercer chuckled, his sausage-like fingers attempting to keep hold of the jewelry, stubborn and unmoving. "It's just got a lot of crap stuck on it, once I get it loose it'll come right out. Let me know if I'm tugging too hard."

"No, I'm fine."

Vane followed up with a chuckle of her own as she watched Milo flinch at her septum tugged at, getting herself semi-comfortable on a nearby stool.

"That's what you get for sticking wood up your nose."

"Hey, it's not my fault."

"Alright, I think I've got it." The piercer managed to twist free one end of the natural jewelry, sliding it out as months of built up body fluids crusted the entire piece.

"That's fucking nasty." Vanity pointed out blatantly, a finger lifted to further justify her fact. The piercer followed suit in cleaning out the piercing, within minutes the jewelry replaced by a silver horseshoe.

"Well, thank God that's over, yeah?"

"I suppose."

x.x.x.x.x

"Gabby! Thank God, you answered."

"Hey, is everything alright?"

There was a sigh following a sharp inhale, Vanity's hand trembling lightly as she held her cell phone to her left ear. Her right hand cupped over her eyes, as if covering from the world the redness it processed.

"You wouldn't believe how fucking bad it's been. Like, ugh… Gabriel, I don't know if I can handle being here another four days."

"What happened, love? Please don't cry!"

The weak demand only encouraged the action, Vane gulping down the salty taste of what her body urged as her voice became crispy and low.

"I tried calling Alex. I tried like, three times… she gets mad at me when I never pick up, and… God, you know? Then I called you, Jesus--of course you pick up, I am so sick of this shit."

"Vane, please… calm down, take a breath. What happened?"

Taking another minute to clear her breathing, she curled on the couch and ignored the yowling black dog scratching at the already chewed up door.

"Milo and Juliet got in a huge argument today. About me, and I know it's my fault."

"Mhmm?"

"Well, okay… Milo graduated this morning, and it was amazing and fun and stuff, and I guess it was bad enough that I was hanging on her while Juliet took pictures. And, well, on the car ride back to the apartment we were talking about a tattoo Milo and I were going to get, as a matching set. Well, I gave my opinion on the dice showing a one and a two, and when Milo asked why I reminded her it was our anniversary."

She sighed again, continuing as her voice slowly cleared.

"It obviously upset Juliet. She didn't say anything, but she got really stiff and silent. But I ignored it, and when I looked over, ugh--I can't believe I'm telling you this--I looked over to the passenger side view mirror and all I see is Milo's face. Gabby, I never realized how much I was still in love with her until then. She is… she is just the most gorgeous person on Earth."

"Aww, Vaney…"

"Then 'Hurt' comes on the radio."

"Yeah?" "I started crying. Uncontrollably."

The silence pressured her to continue.

"When we broke up last, I used to play that song all the time and it reminded me of her. It reminded me of my love for her, and all that… you know, but whatever. So Juliet notices it first and asks me if I'm okay, why am I crying, and then they both start freaking out. I feel so bad but I lied and said that the song reminded me of my grandpa, because I also played it occasionally after his death. It was horrible."

"So when did they fight?"

"I'm not so sure what actually stirred it up, but we got back to the apartment and Juliet stormed to the room and slammed the door shut. Milo followed her, of course, and they had a scream fest while I laid on the couch. She took the keys and leashed her dog and took off, again--Milo followed. They've been gone an hour already, I don't even know what's going to happen. I feel like she's going to kill me."

"Oh, Vane, she's not going to kill you. Don't worry about it, okay? That's an issue between them, don't blame yourself for it."

"Gabriel… I want to go home." The words spiraled into a desperate whine, tears finally dripping from her eyes as she began her routine festival of sobs. There was a heavy sigh barely heard from the other side of the line.

"Vanity, it'll be okay. They have that party thing going on tonight, don't they? Maybe having people over will loosen things up and everything will be fine in the morning. You'll be home soon, love."

"Yeah, I guess you're right." She sniffed, her hand rubbing her cheeks raw as she attempted to get rid of as many tears as possible. "Thanks for listening, Gabe, I'm going to… make myself a little more presentable for the party. I'll see you next Tuesday."

"Sure thing, take care of yourself."

"Later."