14 ~ Germs of Perfection

August 21st, 2011, 12:17 A.M.

Downtown Oakland, Oakland, California

Tyler left Tim in the back booth to work his graveyard shift, grabbed another Red Bull from the walk in cooler and locked the door on his way out. He stood by the cigarette ashtray and cracked the can open, taking in the night. It was cooling down to what he considered to be the ideal temperature, when a man could arbitrarily don a hoodie or forego it and either way he would be comfortable. There was a fog rolling in that had a damp, misty feel to it, but the starry night sky was void of clouds so the threat of rain was absent. He took a sip of Red Bull and immediately felt a sense of diminishing returns; the first energy drink today had been heaven, the second had been cocaine laced purgatory, but this one just made it seem formulaic and made him want real food.

"I like this here," came that British voice as Bones walked up to Tyler, a cigarette held between his teeth, fishing through his pocket for a lighter while gesturing towards the ashtray. "There are more roaches in here than cigarette butts."

"Yep," Tyler said with a chuckle, "but I don't smoke cigarettes, so I mean, what do you expect?"

Bones lit up and shrugged. "Good point I guess. Do you just stand out here smoking joints then?"

Tyler nodded. "Usually." He watched as, on the other side of the parking lot, Eve got into the most banged up Honda Civic he had ever laid eyes upon, from a year no later than ninety-five. It took four attempts turning the clunker over before it would actually start, and even then it sounded like it was just about getting ready to clock out and retire to the scrap yard.

"Did you ever consider that this is very obviously in plain sight of the road?" Bones asked as he took another drag.

"Did you ever consider that five seconds ago I was pointing a shotgun at a police officer?" Tyler countered.

Bones slowly nodded. "Point taken, point taken. So when do I start working?"

Tyler thought about that as he took a long swig of Red Bull. "Um…" he trailed off, not really having given too much thought to the subject. He wasn't the manager after all, he was only following orders. "Swing by Monday I guess, that's when I told Eve to come, we'll just work it out with James, figure out some kind of schedule or something."

"I got class Monday man, that's no good," Bones replied, apologizing with his face instead of his words, "how 'bout Tuesday?"

Tyler nodded. "Yeah that's fine by me," he was about to take another drink when he paused, lips to the can, put it back down and gave Bones a very curious but also suspicious look. "Wait a second. Class? What class? You're in school?"

"Of course I'm in school man," he responded, almost as if the assumption that he wouldn't be was downright offensive. "At University of California. This is my last year, and then I'm gonna be a computer software engineer."

This factual tidbit seemed to catch Tyler off guard even more than the initial realization that Bones was in school. "Shit man, that's not something small either… I mean no offense dude but I didn't think you were actually going places, unless it was back to England."

"Oh wow, you're too funny," Bones said dryly with a roll of the eyes. "You didn't think I wanted to be a bloody drug dealer forever, did you? I'm just doing it to pay for college so I can actually make something for myself."

Tyler's head started nodding slowly as he searched for something to say, but his words were having difficulty finding him. "Well props to you man," he finally said. "I never really tried in high school 'cause I knew I had a drug dynasty waiting for me."

Bones finished his cigarette and tossed the butt in the ashtray. "Well just tread cautiously, because that in and of itself is a fragile entity my friend. Especially with the other families in this city." He zipped up his jacket and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "Alright well, I'll catch ya Tuesday."

"Later." As Bones began to walk to his Ford Taurus, Tyler turned around and scanned the parking lot for the unaccounted for addition to the roster. It took him a second to find her, but there she was, sitting on the pavement with her back to the garbage corral behind the store where they had run into each other for the first time days ago. He kept his eyes straight as he walked over to her, his right hand on the back of his neck humbly. "I'm not letting you go through the dumpster again," he stated with a lighthearted sense of sarcasm.

Whitney didn't respond for a second, sitting frozen and transfixed on the piece of the sky that she had been staring at. Only after a moment did she turn to Tyler and crack a half smile. "No," she said quietly, running her fingers through her dirty dreads, "I'm not gonna go through your dumpster again, don't worry." Her words were soft, almost as if she was speaking to him in a room full of people and didn't want to be overheard. "I was just looking at the stars, they're really pretty."

Tyler looked up at the stars and had to admit that it was a soothing sight to see, probably something he could better appreciate high, but soothing all the same.

"You know," Whitney continued unprompted, "I could point out dozens of constellations in the sky right now, I know where a whole bunch of them are. When you look at the stars without knowing about the constellations, you're just looking at a scatter plot, but when you know what you're looking at, it's the most beautiful painting in the universe."

"That's pretty deep," Tyler admitted, not sure if he was uncomfortable or intrigued, "are you into art then?"

Whitney shook her head bluntly. "No, not at all. Art is just the creation of a man based on what he is thinking, based on what's going on inside his head, and let's face it. What's going on inside a man's head is usually pretty sickening. Not to mention that art these days, while not effective, is primarily used as a means to make money." She turned to Tyler. "You're face is very taut," she stated plainly.

To this Tyler could only raise an eyebrow.

"It means you don't really care about what I'm saying right now, you're only pretending to be interested because you don't want to hurt my feelings." She turned to him and smiled at the shocked reaction she received. "Don't worry, it's okay, I don't expect you to get it. It's just weird to think that just about ever teenager in the country would rather watch a rerun of the O.C. than the night sky."

"Can't say I'd be chompin' at the bit to watch either," Tyler admitted timidly with a shrug.

To his surprise, Whitney actually giggled at this. Christ, was all Tyler could think, this chick's smile is mesmerizing. "See, feels good to be totally candid around strangers, doesn't it?" She lightly got to her feet in one graceful, sweeping motion so she was eye level with Tyler. "I'm guessing by your hesitant nature that you're going to offer me help again, but you're worried I'll still be too proud to accept it."

"Wow," Tyler began, scratching his head in a puzzled manner, "you're starting to freak me out with that 'body language face reader' thing." He shrugged his shoulders. "It might not sound as sincere since you already predicted it, but the offer's always on the table, and despite what you think, it's not 'cause I'm after something. You know it is possible for people to be sympathetic to a situation like yours."

"I know," Whitney agreed, "but I'm not in the market for sympathy, I've found it's rarer than some of the drugs you've got in that McDonalds." She paused for a second and looked at the ground sheepishly. "But, my shirt is basically a couple torn up pieces of cloth and there's a hole in the ass of my pants the size of a grapefruit… see?" She turned around, rotating her head so she was still looking at Tyler, as if daring him to check out her figure.

Tyler did without shame; to hesitate would be downright socially awkward. "Yep, that's a grapefruit. Well I got clothes at my place, can't promise they'll fit, but my wardrobe is your wardrobe."

Throughout this conversation someone had always been looking at the ground, or the sky, or off into the distance, but when Tyler turned to Whitney for an answer he found himself staring right into those icy blue pools that were her eyes. Something turned over in the back of his throat and everything abruptly knotted up. There was not for the first time an unexplained urge to say or do something that would be incredibly stupid in its spontaneity. To prevent himself from doing this he found himself frozen on the spot, his eyes locked in a dead fix on Whitney's.

"And I can use your shower too?" Whitney broke the silence finally, her head was tilted to the side in a way that brought out something between puppy dog eyes and an angelic glow. "I don't want to gross you out but I haven't showered in weeks."

Tyler laughed. "Yeah, I can tell," he responded tauntingly, and then suddenly jumped back as Whitney tried to slug him playfully in the arm. "Just kidding, just kidding, you don't even smell bad, well, not that bad. C'mon follow me, that's my shitty station wagon over there."

*

Tyler twirled the top of his grinder round and round while the vaporizer warmed up next to him on the floor. He sat Indian style in the middle of his living room watching Rachel Clarke relay the happenings of the city to the viewers of the CBS late night news.

"…deadly shooting on the corner of East 32nd and Pine earlier tonight makes the sixth such incident this month. Witnesses say that the two men stood outside for some time arguing before one of them pulled out a gun. Montechello is listed in critical condition at Oakland General Hospital's intensive care unit. His recovery is questionable."

While he packed the finely ground ganja that Bones had given him into the vaporizer's loading cartridge, he let his mind wander and think about that name. With heavy roots in Italian it sounded very much like someone who would work with the Goriolla family who had been shot. 32nd and Pine was in Goriolla territory but very close to the border of Schwartz land, which made him wonder. Could the sudden spike of shooting incidents mean that the two families were having it out for each other? Tyler stuck the tube of the vape in his mouth and snickered to himself, silently wishing that the two gangs would wipe each other clean off the map for good, leaving nothing but body bags and shell casings.

The door to his bathroom opened and a very wet Whitney stepped out, dripping water all over the carpet by the door. She had a towel wrapped around her and a can of Mountain Dew that she was drinking from as she walked across the room into the kitchen. "That was ten minutes from heaven in there," she told Tyler as she opened the fridge and scanned the insides of it. "Thanks again for letting me get cleaned up. Do you care if I eat the rest of your Chinese takeout?"

"I wouldn't if I were you," Tyler warned her as he blew out a cloud of smoke into the airspace of his apartment. "I don't even remember the last time I ordered Chinese. The pizza's from yesterday though."

"Typical guy," Whitney muttered as she grabbed the pizza box from the top shelf and set it down on the kitchen table, "leaving rotting food in the fridge."

His thumb on the opening of the tube, he gave Whitney a dirty look with narrowed eyes. "Why are you always so eager to classify me as a 'typical' guy?" he asked curiously.

Whitney shrugged. "Why are you always so set on proving to me that you're not a typical guy?"

He took another hit and thought about that for a second. "Um…" he started, with no real thought in his head after that. By the time he had blown out the smoke he still hadn't come up with a valid response to her question.

"It's okay," Whitney said when she realized just how hard Tyler had been trying to think of some kind of comeback, "I already know the answer."

"Do you now?" Tyler said jestingly with a chuckle tacked on the end for good measure. "And how is that? Did you read it off my face?" "Well," Whitney started, her tone almost amused as she kept her eyes on the space above Tyler's left shoulder so to avoid his eyes again, "that's an oversimplified way of putting it, but yeah, basically, between your face and your body language."

Tyler nodded in a manner that kept it unclear as to whether he was buying into Whitney's explanation or not. "Well don't keep it all in," he said after a harsh pause in words, "do tell, because I'm completely on the edge of my seat waiting to hear about why I'm so set on proving that I'm not a typical guy."

Whitney's face, softened considerably from the shower, now tightened up once again with a deep frown. "You know, just forget it," she suddenly waved it off, "dumb conversation." She grabbed a slice of pizza and took a huge bite, as if the more food she could be chewing at once the longer she had not to say anything to Tyler.

On either side of the equation Tyler didn't really have anything in particular to add. Whitney was really good at saying things that rendered him unable to articulate a response. He could match wits with the likes of anyone and yet this girl left him speechless so continuously that it was uncanny. On top of that it wasn't even a matter of being outwitted. If a normal conversation with Tyler was like a game of chess, this was like a game of Uno, and Tyler sucked at Uno.

By the time he had thought of any sort of comeback, Whitney had finished the three remaining slices of pizza and walked back to Tyler's bathroom. She emerged a moment later, and when she looked at Tyler and he looked back, they both shared a whole hearted, drawn out laugh.

"God!" Whitney shouted, "Don't you have like… any ex girlfriends who might have forgotten some of their stuff here?"

"You're girlfriend just called, she's wondering where you are," Tyler poked fun at her, referring to the clothes of Tyler's that she had thrown on in the bathroom. She was wearing a pair of his torn up skating jeans, and although Tyler was a skinny guy, they were still too big. She had thrown one of his strap belts on but, in true tom-boy fashion, they wore much lower than the boxer shorts she had also borrowed. The shirt she had pulled on was a faded Gallows tee that Tyler had bought back when the band came to Oakland in 2009 with AFI. It would have been a tad too big but she had tied a knot in the back of it, making it form fitting. She was still barefoot. "I suppose it would look worse on me though."

Whitney nodded. "I imagine it would."

Tyler had finished the first bowl and started packing another, surprised at how nice Bone's Nameless weed really was. It had a different feel to it, it was mellow and much more subtle than the best weed money could buy for the price, but already Tyler's fingers seemed to be moving very slowly as he broke the bud apart. "You're lucky my self esteem is stable as it is. But anyway I'm about to smoke one more if you wanna blaze one with me."

"Eh…" Whitney trailed off as she shoved her hands into the pockets of the oversized jeans. "I gotta walk back to the park in a few minutes, I should probably be sober for that walk. Thanks though."

The eyebrows on Tyler's face raised to dangerous levels as his puzzled face tightened up. "Um… why would you go to the park? You've got a place to crash right here if you want, I've slept on the floor here enough times to know it's more comfortable than the park. You can actually just use the bed, I'll sleep on the floor."

Whitney smiled and half laughed. "I think you're done enough for me, Tyler. I'm really grateful, I can't thank you enough. I just… I don't know what it is, I just like the park at night is all. It's cozy."

Tyler shrugged and hit the vape. "Sometimes you make me wonder, Whitney."

The grin on her face as she reached the door was a perfect example of what Tyler had been struggling to put his finger on all day. It was innocent but cunning, inviting but mysterious, and brought out all the beauty that had struck him the first time he had met her. There was that feeling again, the one he didn't understand for the life of him. "Good," she cooed softly and the door silently clicked shut behind her.

Note: When I update next Tuesday I'm going to also change the name of the story. For those of you following the story will be called "Schemers and Dreamers" as of Tuesday, if you've added to your favorite story list I assume it will still take you where you need to go. In other news, leave some more reviews, we're rolling along pretty good got more on the way.