Welcome to Great Falls – A Serial Novel – Part 4

October 19, 2014

Upon waking, Brandon reached for the small spiral notebook on his nightstand and pulled the pen from the coil. He always had a couple around to jot down any ideas or dialogue that came to mind. Most of the ideas were crap and some became redundant, but he liked playing it safe just so he wouldn’t miss out on anything, and it also gave him the impression of being productive.

He rolled over on his stomach and wrote down the basic premise for a time travel story, where a man was selected to be part of an experiment because he was receptive to thoughts sent from the future while he slept. Once Brandon’s mind went blank, he walked down to the living area and opened his laptop on the coffee table to transcribe the notes. He was a firm believer in writing upon waking when the head was still clear from sleep.

Brandon lit a cigarette and imagined what it would look like if someone took a picture of him from the mezzanine. The smoke rising, the faceless writer hunched over his work. He snickered and went out on the balcony to finish his cigarette. The street was empty except the sidewalk seating for the Downtown Café a block-and-a-half west of his loft. He smelled coffee from the Starbucks east of him.

Brandon took the blue Maxwell House tin from the top of the fridge and scooped a few tablespoons into the coffee filter. A few more mornings and he would have a new patio ash tray. He cooked four strips of bacon in a cast iron skillet and scrambled three eggs in the leftover grease. He reviewed his notes while eating.

Elaine Goodwin had at least a dozen flower tattoos, ranging from the stargazer lilies rising from her right hip to the middle of her back to the blue irises on her left shoulder blade. However, most of them were covered by her workout pants and t-shirt.

She jogged on a treadmill next to Vanessa, who was technically her trainer for the workout. They met each other in middle school but weren’t particularly close until Vanessa started working at the gym. It was the only thing they really had in common. While Vanessa liked going out with her friends, Elaine preferred sitting in front of a computer with one of her role-playing games or reading in bed, particularly thrillers and murder mysteries. She got to see enough people as a cashier at the supermarket.

“I met someone new,” Vanessa said.

“Really? Who?”

“This guy.”

“Guy?”

“Actually, I want you to meet him. I think you’ll really like him.”

“No, I’m not doing this again. You realize you have terrible taste in men, right?”

“Because I’m a lesbian?!” Vanessa shouted.

The girls continued jogging as if nothing happened while the other members looked toward them unable to decide how to react.

“Tell me again what you want in a guy,” Vanessa said.

“Smart—”

“Nice, funny, interesting, blah… blah… derr… derr… blah. How about a guy who plays video games?”

“No, definitely not one of those.”

“Well, I didn’t see an Xbox in his apartment.”

Brandon leaned on the kitchen counter and watched his mother chop green onions for a salad. Mrs. Fair lost some weight over the last couple years but was still radiant and upbeat. Cancer was the most effective diet I’ve ever been on. Brandon regretted not being around for the surgery, but his mother insisted he stay away. He was quite squeamish and turned pale each time he walked into a hospital or saw needles piercing skin.

“Stop standing there. You’re freaking me out,” Mrs. Fair said and shot him a look.

“I’m just glad you’re doing okay.”

“You think I would ever die without you around?”

Brandon didn’t say anything.

“I’m kidding. Jesus, you’re just like your father.”

They looked out the kitchen window. Mr. Fair fiddled with the gas grill’s knobs while checking the thermometer on the cover.

“He does know that reading is never accurate, right?” Brandon asked.

“I’m not having that conversation with him again.”

“He does all that and I know he’ll take the tri-tip off after an hour.”

“How do you figure?”

“He does sixteen minutes a pound, and I saw the label in the trash.”

Lizzie walked in with a bottle of wine and went straight for the corker. She looked like a 28-year-old version of her mother. Light brown hair, tall, graceful.

“I thought you were never coming back?” she said to Brandon.

“I wasn’t planning on it, Nurse Lizzie, but then I missed you sooo much.”

“Come here.” Lizzie wrapped her arms around her younger brother and pretended to lift him. “Putting some weight on, aren’t you?”

“I weigh—”.

“I’m kidding. You look great. Ma says she wants you to have grandkids.”

“I said no such thing, Lizzie,” Mrs. Fair said.

“Don’t use the expired condoms in your room. She poked holes in them,” Lizzie said.

“I’m going to smoke a cigarette. I hear it lowers your sperm count,” Brandon said while leaving the kitchen.

The Fairs sat in the living room with quiet disappointment. It wasn’t even halftime and Peyton Manning had already thrown three touchdowns, but more importantly, the 49ers were down by eighteen points.

“The tri-tip was excellent, Dad,” Lizzie said.

“Thanks. Well, let’s hope the Broncos cover,” Mr. Fair responded.

“You bet against the Niners?”

“I thought they were going to lose pretty handily.” Mr. Fair played quarterback in high school and college and watched it as more of an analyst than fan.

“Oh, well.” Lizzie turned to Brandon. “Have you been writing?”

“Started a new project this morning.”

“Will you actually finish this project, or will you be too busy bartending?” Lizzie asked.

Mrs. Fair looked up from grading mid-term papers for her junior English classes.

Mr. Fair said, “Brandon, when I was your age—”

“You were still in grad school,” Brandon said. Everyone laughed except Mr. Fair.

“Wait, how old are you?”

The room went silent.

“I’m kidding. You’re turning 26 next month.”

“Well, I’d like to read the story when you’re finished,” Mrs. Fair said.

Brandon’s phone beeped. It was a text message from Vanessa asking him to meet her at The Cantina.

The Cantina was filled with solemn people in red 49ers jerseys and two Broncos fans who were buying drinks with their winnings.

Brandon saw Elaine through The Cantina’s windows while he and Lizzie waited for the bouncer to check their driver’s licenses. She had ridiculously over-the-top curls and a puke green-shirt, but he was fascinated by her face. She looked like no one he had ever seen but yet familiar.

“Sloppy seconds, huh?” Vanessa said to Brandon before introductions could be made.

Brandon froze until Vanessa and Elaine started laughing. He left them and his sister to get drinks from the bar.

“All the guys in the bar are pissed because the Niners lost, but even more so because you’re with the three hottest chicks in the place,” the bartender Josh Walters said.

“Hah! One of them is my sister.”

“Sorry, my bad. What are you having?”

“I need a shot for now. You want one?”

“Sure, I’ll have one.”

“Shot of Jameson for me and whatever you’re having,” Brandon said.

Sunday was service industry night and as the football fans thinned out, the place got rowdier with people who worked the bars and restaurants. Dennis joined the group and vied with Vanessa for Lizzie’s attention. Elaine and Brandon engaged in small talk.

“I really like what you did with your hair,” Brandon said while nodding and holding his laughter.

“Oh, you do?” Elaine responded. “It’s natural, of course.”

“Is it from your mother or father?”

“Grandmother on my dad’s side. It skips a generation.”

“You know, if I ask you more questions than you ask me, it almost guarantees you’ll like me more.”

“But I’ll only ever ask questions of you if I actually like you.”

Brandon nodded, and Elaine drank the rest of her Maker’s Mark.

“Hey, thank you for the drink. Can I buy you one?” Elaine asked. “You know, so we’re even.”

Welcome to Great Falls – A Serial Novel – Part 3

October 18, 2014

Vanessa sat up on the couch and wiped the dried rheum from the corners of her eyes. She looked around the loft with satisfaction and pulled open the balcony’s thick blue curtains.

“Too much light!” Brandon yelled from the mezzanine.

“It’s almost ten o’clock.”

She stepped onto the balcony and her throat got drier just from seeing the cigarette butts in the gas grill. Vanessa grabbed the empty beer bottles and took them to the kitchen to rinse.

Brandon and Vanessa walked a few blocks to the Downtown Café and arrived just after the morning rush. The tables were still full, but most of the customers had finished their meals and were just having coffee and conversation.  They took seats at the counter.

“I’m really sorry about last night,” Brandon said.

“Seriously. Don’t worry about,” Vanessa insisted. “But, I do have a way of getting back at Dennis.”

Dennis lied on the weight bench and did ten reps of 205 pounds. On the last repetition, Vanessa held her hands under the barbell just in case he needed help. He didn’t.

“I still can’t believe you guys ditched me,” he said.

“From what I saw, you wanted us to ditch you.”

“Everything was going fine until she disappeared to the bathroom while we were waiting for a cab, and the next thing I know, her friends are carrying her out the bar.”

“You roofied her?”

“Shut it,” Dennis said. “And you disappeared to move furniture with Brandon?”

Vanessa smiled mischievously as they moved through the crowded gym to the leg press machines.

“Wait!” Dennis said. “No! No, you didn’t?”

“I’m not saying anything happened, but if it did, it wasn’t very good.”

“So you’re not coming back to the light?”

“Not for him, that’s for sure.”

“Too small?”

“No, if anything… I’m not talking about this anymore. Put two forty-fives on your side, sir.”

Vanessa contorted her body into the proper position and did twenty leg presses easily. She ran the 1600 meters in high school and always had strong legs, but she hated the hard workouts. Besides, she wasn’t looking to bulk up.

“God, I barely remember anything,” Vanessa said. “We damn near drank the whole bottle of Jameson. Yeah, I definitely blame it on the Jameson. Do you want a ride to your car later?”

“No, I think I’m going to jog. Get tired of these treadmills after a while. Besides, the weather’s perfect for a nice run.”

“Good, get out of here because you reek of booze.”

“You don’t even drink Jameson.”

“Well, apparently I did last night.”

Brandon pushed his shopping cart through the produce section and glanced at the list on his phone. It not only reminded him of what he needed, it prevented him from buying too many things that could spoil, especially fruit. He was always mesmerized by the way the fruits gleamed under the bright lights. Yes, he was a merchandiser’s dream, but his list restricted him to half a dozen bananas and a combination of six apples or oranges. He grabbed a bag of red potatoes and headed to the meat section, where he selected a whole chicken, three T-bone steaks and a pound of thick bacon.

In the liquor aisle, he put bottles of vodka, scotch, bourbon, rye, gin and cognac into the cart.

“Am I getting an invite to the party?” Kristen Ferguson asked. Her wild black hair was tucked under a blue Golden State Warriors hat.

“You haven’t RSVPed?” Brandon responded.

She laughed. “I’m just kidding. Gotta work tonight anyway.”

“There’s always the after party.”

“Yeah?”

“Well, no, just shopping to fill up the apartment.”

“Cool. You live around here?”

“Actually, I’m down the block from The Revisionist.”

Kristen was thirty-five years old but looked much younger. It must have been from her mother, who was carded even for cigarettes until she was almost fifty years old.

“Well, I will be there all night if you get bored.”

Dennis kept a seven minute pace, and even with the traffic lights and his mind wondering if Vanessa actually slept with Brandon, he reached Brandon’s loft in less than fifteen minutes. He checked his car, and it was untouched from the previous night.

Brandon answered the door with a glass of Jameson in hand. “Hey, come on in.”

“Got any water?” Dennis asked.

“Did you run here? I think there’s still Gatorade from yesterday. Kao and I are just watching the street fair from the balcony.”

Dennis looked at the counter and saw a bottle of Jameson that was still three-quarters full. He felt relieved and didn’t say anything. It was the same bottle from the previous night, but after he left the gym, Vanessa called Brandon to fill him in on the conversation. Coincidentally, Kao had just stopped by with a bottle of Jameson as a welcome gift, and Brandon put that new bottle in a cabinet above the fridge. Otherwise, he would have done the same with the other.

They went out to the balcony.

“I have to run,” Kao said. “But if you guys want to play, there’s going to be some cards next door tonight.”

“Five-ten no-limit is too rich for my blood,” Brandon said. “Hey, thanks again for the Jameson.”

“Welcome to the neighborhood. I’ll let myself out.”

Dennis chugged his Gatorade and took a deep breath.

“Heard you found a lady last night?” Brandon asked.

“Oh, god, I don’t even want to talk about that,” Dennis said. “Just came from a workout with Vanessa.”

“Nice, how’s she doing?”

“Did I ever tell you she’s a lesbian?”

“No, why?”

“Well, she is.”

“Are you sure?”

“Look, she already told me about last night.”

Brandon smiled. “Yeah, what did she say?”

“That you weren’t any good.”

“What? That’s bullshit.”

Dennis started laughing. “Yeah, apparently, you failed to convert her.”

“Convert her?”

“Make her straight again.”

“Oh, Jesus. I didn’t even think of it that way.” Brandon paused. “I just wanted to christen the loft.”

“Christen the loft? That’s terrible,” Dennis said.

“Wait, are you in love with her?”

“No, I’m not. Well, I don’t know.”

Brandon debated telling his friend the ruse because he didn’t like being cruel, but he also knew Dennis wasn’t in love with Vanessa, so he said, “If we’re going to be friends, you can’t go falling in love with my sloppy seconds. Besides, you’re the one who ditched her to make out with Lucy Lush.”

Kao’s loft was decorated more like an office than a living space, but this night the furniture was pushed to the side to accommodate two poker tables. One table had $5-$10 no-limit Texas Hold ‘em and the other hosted a $20-$40 limit Texas Hold ‘em game. Most of the players were local businessmen in their forties and fifties and looking to just blow off steam, and they all chatted with little inhibition one is prone to do with longtime friends.

Brandon watched the tables from a distance but wasn’t impressed. He played a bit when he was in high school and college, mainly on-line but he logged some time on live tables as well. Right away he saw almost all of the guys playing too wide a range of hands and without enough aggression. Too many hands went to a showdown. When Brandon went to smoke on the balcony, Kao joined him.

“I’ll stake you if you want to play,” Kao said as he pulled a cigarette out of its box.

“No, it’s been too long since I last played.”

“Like riding a bike.”

“Why don’t you play?”

“I will later or if they need an extra body. Besides, I want these guys to have fun and get into their rhythms.”

“Patterns?” Brandon asked.

Kao smiled and lifted his glass for a toast.

They walked down the block to The Revisionist and Kao commented on how dead it was for a Saturday night. Most of the bars were at half capacity because of mid-terms and there was also a stabbing the previous weekend that was all over the local paper. At the door, the bouncer nodded at Kao and let the two in while checking the IDs of a group of girls.  The speakers pumped nondescript dance music with a repetitive beat to a few dozen people dancing in front of the deejay’s stage.

“Well, you sure meet everyone fast,” Kristen said when she saw Brandon with Kao.

“Just wanted to make sure you’re coming to the after party,” Brandon said.

“You said you weren’t having one so I made other plans.”

She poured Bombay Sapphire on ice with a slice of lime and put it in front of Kao.

“What are you having?” she asked Brandon.

“Same.”

Fiction – The Dragon’s Wok

Chapter One – The Dragon’s Wok
-Saechao

He catches me trying to slip out of the door.

In a game we’ve been playing since his third day home from the hospital, the difference now is he can chase me, albeit with wobbly steps.  Like always, he looks up, eyes questioning where and why I’m going.  At first, I stopped so he wouldn’t cry, though he had never given me any reason to believe he would.  Now, I want to be caught.  I want to explain the destination, to promise an early return, to kiss him on his forehead.

We meet halfway in the living room and I scoop him off the carpet.

He leans his padded cheek against my ear as we twirl in front of my mother.

Turning my head, my lips to his ears, I whisper words he has heard many times, a secret I hope he remembers.  Before too long, my restless mother asks to hand him over, and I kiss his forehead before holding him out to her arms.  I can feel them watching me walk out of the room and the front door.

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