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.”

Welcome to Great Falls – A Serial Novel – Part 2

October 17, 2014

Dennis was hungover but he dragged himself out of bed and walked into the bathroom for a shower. The countertop had the bare essentials of a young single guy living alone: tooth brush, toothpaste, deodorant, comb, razor, shaving cream, etc. It used to be cluttered with hair and skin product and various cosmetics, but when his fiancée left him he went through the house and got rid of anything non-essential. He gave away the potted plants and threw away any clothes he hadn’t worn within the previous year.

While drunk the previous night, he changed his mind and agreed to help Brandon with moving. He even volunteered to bring breakfast. Besides, it would give him a chance to be around Vanessa, who he had been pursuing for half a year.

Dennis arrived at the loft as Brandon and his father pulled a box spring from the U-Haul. There were still a dozen or so items–sofa, loveseat, bookshelves–that would probably need at least two people to move. Most of Brandon’s belongings were books. Boxes and boxes of books. It was why the U-Haul had such a hard time on the highway. Though Brandon didn’t write much in Portland, he certainly read his fair share, and outside of his work and drinking, he spent plenty of time browsing at Powell’s Books and his local Goodwill as well.

Dennis lifted the bag of breakfast burritos as he got out of his Chrysler 300.

“Breakfast!” Vanessa screamed from the stairs. “You remembered.”

“I also brought some Gatorade in case any of you want any,” Dennis said.

“You don’t remember the rest of us just drinking water the last hour or so last night?” Vanessa asked.

“That’s right.”

“The stairs are awesome. I’m getting in my workout for the day.” She jogged in place. “One more box and I’ll have one of those burritos.”

“Bacon and eggs. Have one before they’re cold.”

The front door of the loft led to a hallway with a bathroom to the left and the pantry and utility closet to the right. In the rectangular living area, the kitchen was to the left in the near corner and the balcony directly ahead. The stairs ran along the left wall over the kitchen area to the mezzanine level, which had a large walk-in closet and another bathroom.

The bed and dresser were up on the mezzanine, but the rest of Brandon’s belongings were in the middle of the main floor.

“This is a cold space,” Mr. Fair said while looking at the gray concrete floor. “At least it’ll be easy to keep clean.”

“Note to self, I need to get a broom,” Brandon said. “Let me buy you all lunch.”

Brandon looked around the room and imagined where he would put his work desk, TV stand and bookshelves.

McNally’s Tavern had a square bar and at least two TVs on each of its walls. Most of the people in the bar had left work early, and Casual Fridays in this town meant jeans and just about any shirt without any holes or foul language. Brandon and Vanessa sat at one of the bar’s corners while waiting for Dennis.

“Have you thought about how you want to set up the room, yet?” Vanessa asked.

“I generally like to have my desk near a window, so I’ll probably have that near the balcony, but I haven’t given it much thought.”

Vanessa had aspirations to be an interior designer, but early in college she became a workout fanatic and developed an infatuation with nutrition. She worked at the local gym as a personal trainer while debating whether she wanted to go to graduate school or the military.

“Dennis!” everyone in the bar cheered when he finally showed up.

He blushed and waved before walking to a group of three men in their early forties, two of whom wore suits. One of the suited men was James Robinson, an extremely tall black man who owned the real estate agency where Dennis worked. James congratulated Dennis for a deal that closed earlier in the day and slapped him on the back. The other suited man was an Asian named Kao Saeteurn, a local businessman and retired basketball player who also owned McNally’s Tavern. Andy Johnson was the third man, and he looked like he just got out of bed. Dennis wasn’t short by any means, but the two men in suits dwarfed him.

Dennis nodded at Linda Marshall, the curvy bartender, and she poured him Stolichnaya on the rocks with a lime slice.

“Well, aren’t you the popular one?” Vanessa said when Dennis walked over.

“Great month at work! I should be buying you guys drinks.”

“I never thought you’d be doing sales,” Brandon said.

“Me neither, but not all of us get to go to college.”

“I was an English Major.”

Kao joined them and introduced himself to Brandon and Vanessa, but they already knew who he was. “I hear you might be looking to bartend,” he said to Brandon.

“I’m just looking for anything.”

“I don’t know if we have anything open at the moment, but if you call my general manager, she’ll keep you in mind. Her name is Amy. Just say I gave you her number.” He took a pen out of his jacket and wrote Amy McCoy’s phone number on a cocktail napkin. “By the way, welcome to the neighborhood.”

Brandon looked puzzled.

“We’re neighbors,” Kao said. “I saw you moving in this morning with your father. He’s our optometrist.”

“You live in the lofts?”

“No, but I keep a place and stay there once or twice a month.”

Kao waved to Linda and asked to close his tab so he could make it to the high school football game where his son was the starting quarterback.

“You owe nothing!” the bartender said.

“Seriously, you have to ring me up. For accounting’s sake.”

“If you want to pay for drinks in your own bar you better walk your ass back here.”

“Fine!” Kao started his way around the bar.

“Okay, okay, okay. You bought one for yourself, a round for those three and a round for those two.” She looked to the ceiling. “Thirty-three dollars.”

“Hmm, let me get another round for James and Andy over there and one for these guys over here.”

“Sixty-three dollars, sir!”

Kao left eighty dollars for the bill.

“Thank you,” Brandon said.

“No problem. You should try Hector’s rib eye if you get a chance.”

As if on cue, Hector Lopez rang his bell and announced, “Rib eye! Medium!”

Later in the evening, Brandon and Vanessa stumbled down the street arm in arm as they tried to keep up with Dennis. He led them to The Alley, which had an outdoor seating area where Brandon’s balcony was visible across the street. Inside, there were balloons and a deejay playing to a small birthday party.

“I have this urge to move furniture around,” Brandon said.

“Really?”

“Whenever I get restless, I want to do laundry or rearrange furniture.”

“We should get some drinks and do that.”

“You sure you can handle that much excitement on a Friday night?”

“Shit. You know it.”

“Let’s find Dennis.”

“He’s sucking face with some girl at the bar,” Vanessa said. “Besides, we can handle this by ourselves.”

“Shit, I have nothing to drink in the apartment.”

Vanessa called a cab to take them to the liquor store, where she bought a twelve-pack of Bud Light and a bottle of Jameson.

Back at the loft, it didn’t take long for Vanessa to figure out what best to do with the furniture. Not more than half an hour later, they started to arrange Brandon’s books on the shelves, which took longer than expected. He organized the books in reverse chronological order from when he finished him. The first five books were ones he hadn’t read: The Bourne Identity, Dracula, Choke, Underworld and Sabbath’s Theater.

“If you look in the front cover you’ll see the start and end dates,” Brandon said.

“It’s getting hot in here.” Vanessa took off her shirt and revealed a white tank top. “I can’t believe you’ve read all these books.”

“Most of them more than once. If you can just sort them as best you can, that’ll be great. I’m going to double check anyway.”

“So for the ones you’ve read more than once…”

“First time, please.” Brandon looked at the bookshelf he completed while only having to look in the covers of two books. “You’re right. It is hot in here.”

He grabbed two beers from the fridge and his cigarettes off the black coffee table.

“You know, it’s been a while, but I’m going to have one of those with you,” Vanessa said.

They went on the balcony and looked at the patio of The Alley. The crowd thinned out.

Brandon turned toward Vanessa and they smiled at each other. He leaned forward.

“Wait, what are you doing?” she asked.

“Nothing, why?”

“Dennis told you I’m a lesbian… riiight?”

“What? Why would he?”

“He told me he told you last night.”

“No, he didn’t. I’m so sorry.”

“Look, if I wasn’t a lesbian, I would totally go for you.”

“Yeah, that’s what all the lesbians say.”

She laughed hysterically.

“I’m so embarrassed,” Brandon said.

“Don’t be. I’d hit on me, too.”

“I need some Jameson.”