The people in rossford chapter two part two
When Paul came to the apartment the next day, it was Sheila, whom he had never met, who answered the door.
“I know you,” she said. She looked like she wanted to say more, but she stopped herself and, instead, turned and went back into the apartment, and then came back opening the door.
“Come in,” she told him. “I’m going now, Kirk,” she said.
She looked at Paul, again like she wanted to say something. But she didn’t. She turned and left.
“My sister’s very defensive,” Kirk said.
“I know what you mean,” said Paul. Then he explained, “I’ve got a sister too. She’ll tear apart anyone to defend me. And she’s my baby sister!”
Kirk nodded, but he didn’t smile.
“I promised I’d listen to you if you had something to say.”
“I’ve got lots to say, Kirk,” Paul closed the door behind him. “And I don’t know how to say any of it.”
“You’re good enough on stage.”
Paul’s face colored. “For a minute I thought you were going to say I’m good enough in movies.”
“I don’t really want to think about you and movies. Not for a while.”
“No,” said Paul, “Of course not.”
Neither one of them sat down. They both moved about the room, hands in pockets, saying phrases to each other, neither of them really looking up.
“On a stage I’ve got lines,” Paul said. “If someone would just… give me the lines.”
“Why’d you do it?”
Paul looked up.
“Cheat on you?” he said. “Or do the porn?”
“You know what? Both. Just tell me both as long as you’re here.”
“The first one’s pretty big, you know?” Paul said. “I mean, when people ask you why you made dirty movies, they’ve already sort of got the answer they want to hear already in their head.”
“You were looking for love? You were looking for fame? You were were young and gullible?”
“The answer… it’s more than one answer. And it comes out in bits and pieces and just like anything else, you’re surprised by the answers. They were things you didn’t even know yourself at the time. But if you ask me, right here, right now, why I did it, then I’m used to getting questions from porn sites or from… people who don’t want a real answer. And you don’t give a real answer. Folks want to hear that it’s really really glamorous, or it’s really really bad and you feel penitent for it. Or… Something like that.”
“It’s really just what it is.
“For a kid with no education, and not a lot of other prospects, it’s not always a bad life. And you get fame, and you get people who tell you how great you are, just like a real star. People like to be stars. They like to feel sexy.”
“Is that why you were with Brian?”
“It’s why I did a lot of things,” said Paul. “But it wasn’t why I was with Brian. I mean, not why I went back to messing around with him, after I started seeing you.”
“If I tell you the answer, and the answer seems dumb, you have to accept it anyway,” Paul told him. “That’s my only rule.”
Kirk said, “Okay?”
“I was confused. You and me… we were dating, and caring for each other, getting closer—”
“And you didn’t want to get close.”
“Would you—” for the first time Paul’s voice rose. He brought it down. “Would you… just… listen.”
“All right. Sorry. I’m listening.”
“I’d never had that. And I thought, I honestly thought that all the feelings, the sex feelings I was having… I couldn’t tell the difference between wanting to be with you or wanting to fuck you. But all I’ve ever done in my life is fuck. So, I felt like I shouldn’t feel that way about you, like our relationship should be… higher.”
Kirk barked a laugh.
“You thought that if you screwed Brian and dated me then we, you and me would be… purer?”
Paul didn’t look at Kirk. He looked at the floor. “It sounds stupid now, doesn’t it?”
“Yes,” Kirk said. “Where does it leave us?”
“I don’t want to… taint the relationship.”
“By having sex with me?”
“I don’t know. Yes!” Paul said, frustrated. “Yes. That’s what I’m afraid of. If I think of you that way, if I allow myself to keep thinking of you, wanting you, then, I don’t know what will happen to us.”
“There is no us,” Kirk said. “Can’t you see that, Paul? If you’re fucking other people cause you’re afraid that having a real relationship with me would be… impure, or whatever bullshit’s floating in your head, then there won’t be an us. And there isn’t an us right now. And you’re scared to go forward with an us. And right now, to tell you the truth, the more you talk to me, the more scared I am of an us, because half of us is you, and you’re really really fucked up! You’re wonderful, and I can’t stop thinking about you, and I’m always ready to forgive you, and I want to, want to be with you, but you’re really, truly, honestly, deeply, fucked up, Paul.”
“I know!” he said, plaintively. “I know.” He turned around.
“And I’m afraid to take you back.”
“I’m afraid to be taken back. I’m afraid that I’m going to screw up, to hurt you again. I’m afraid of this feeling, this sick feeling when I hurt you. I’m afraid that… when I get afraid, I’ll never get to go back to that place and turn into Johnny Mellow. I’m going to have to be Paul Anderson, who gets scared and depressed. And… heartbroken. Who, I get nightmares. I have memories I wish I didn’t. And Johnny Mellow got me out of them. He did. And whether I’m with you or not, I can’t keep doing that. I can’t fuck my way, or drink or drug my way out of pain.
“I’ll do it by myself, Kirk. Because I have to. But I would far rather do it with you. Us.”
“I did something,” Kirk said as they sat on the sofa. “I might as well tell you. I wanted to keep it to myself, but I don’t want to anymore. Not if we’re gonna start over.”
“Okay?” Paul nodded.
“I watched a movie with you. I mean one you were in. I watched it over and over again, and I didn’t know how I felt, or why I was doing it.
“You know how you said we do things we don’t understand? How we don’t understand half the time, until after we’ve done them why we did them?”
“I went to an ex’s house, Ralph. I don’t like him very much. I fucked him. We fucked each other. It was kind of a free for all.”
“Why are you telling me this,” Paul said after a time.
“Because there was something in my head saying: ‘Why are you not telling him?’ And I didn’t want to hide it.
“When I went to him… When we were having sex, I felt like… I wasn’t hurt anymore. I wasn’t used. I wasn’t Kirk the car dealer. I was… impervious. I was a sex god. I wasn’t… the way I felt when Brian brought that movie to me.”
“He’s sorry he did it.”
“I know. It’s just… After I did what I did I wondered if maybe that was part of why you did what you did. The you in the movie, or with Brian was different from the you I know. I thought, that must be the real Paul. I don’t know Paul at all.
“But now I think this is the real me, and this is the real you, and that other me was the me…. That I wanted to be. That got me away from… this one.”
“That makes sense,” Paul said softly, nodding his head as he placed it on Kirk’s shoulder.
“Is that how it was for you?”
“A lot. But I wonder if the same thing that made me do all those movies, and you… go with your ex, isn’t the same thing that makes Brian seem like such a mean person, or made Tom cheat on Fenn or… Brendan on Dena, or… any of the things that happen when… people…”
“Yes,” Paul said tiredly. “That’s sort of strong. But it’s true.”
“You can stay,” he said. “I mean, we don’t have to do anything. I don’t even know that I want to. But… you can stay. All night. If you’d like.”
It always took Todd about ten minutes to shut everything down. When he was sure he was finished for the night, there was still a lot of clipping and pasting to be done, and tonight he had not even been working on the project he’d started three months back. This film had clips of Paul and of Noah, of Fenn, and of Barb Affren talking at long stretches. This film had Layla and Dena, and Brendan Miller was in it too. Just little things, just little bits. Dan Malloy was there, and the interior of Saint Barbara’s, though Todd hardly ever went. He didn’t really know what the common thread was. He was tempted to go down to Demming Road and shoot the car lots. He already had a bit of the playhouse: Fenn, Lee, and Tara playing tonk and smoking cigarettes backstage. Lee, going viciously with a red pen over a play he was writing. The only common thread was these were the people in Rossford.
Todd yawned, and he saw his phone flashing with a message. Who was it? He flipped up the lid. Brian? He could call tomorrow. Yes. He could…
He called Brian back.
“It’s me. It’s Todd.”
“Oh, how are you?”
“Brian,” Todd said, blowing a gush of cigarette smoke out of his mouth. “I’m returning your call.”
“Oh, that’s right. Yes,” Brian sounded slightly scatter brained.
“Well, what’s up?”
“Oh, nothing’s up. I just… I don’t know. I just called.”
“Seriously? Nothing’s up.”
“No,” Brian said with a laugh, which might have been half pretend. “I don’t know, I just thought I’d call. I never just call someone, so I thought I’d try it”
“So like… You’re not screwed up or in trouble or anything.”
“No, Todd. But thanks for asking.”
“Well, I guess I’ll go to bed now.”
“All right. You have a good night. Tell Fenn to have a good night.”
“I’ll be sure to do that.”
Todd almost hung up, but first he said, “Brian?”
“Are you going to be weird from now on?”
“I don’t know about weird,” Brian said. “Maybe… different. Is that all right?”
“Different is good,” Todd said. “Good night.”
And then he hung up.
Clipping off the computer and yawning, Todd went down the hall into the bedroom.
“You seen Paul?”
“He went to go see Kirk, I believe,” Fenn said from the bed. “He hasn’t come back yet, and I suppose that’s a good thing.”
“Brian went and talked to him. Kirk, I mean,” Todd, said, pulling off his shirt, and then then pulling down his jogging pants.
“Actually, he talked to Paul too. To both of them. He’s really serious about turning over a new leaf.”
“Well, Brian shows signs of being an amazing man yet.”
Todd, in his briefs, shook his head and climbed onto the bed.
“Maybe, but you are the most amazing man I’ve ever known. That’s a fact, and I’m just glad to be back.”
“I don’t know how it can be a fact,” Fenn said, “since the most amazing man I know is sitting right here in his underwear.”
Todd put his arms on Fenn’s shoulders and kissed him, and then said, “Let me hit the shower. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
Todd stood up and pulled off his underwear, wadding them in his hands.
“You want me to find you clean shorts and a tee shirt?” Fenn said.
“No need,” Todd grinned. “If you’re up for it, I’ll come back to you just the way I am now.”
Fenn smiled looking up and down Todd’s long body, dusted with dark hair.
“If I was on life support,” he told him. “I would be up for it.”
“How is Kenny?” Mrs. Miller asked as Brendan closed the side door behind him and entered the house.
“He’s good, Mom.”
“It’s good to see you all friends again,” she said. “I was concerned for a while.”
Brendan thought, momentarily, about letting this pass. It was late. But, what had she meant?
He asked her, as he stood at the edge of the kitchen, about to go through the living room, toward his bedroom.
“Well, I guess I mean…” Mrs. Miller, put her pen down and stopped her work, “Men can be unreliable is all. But… not you. You’re turning into a real man, and there aren’t a lot of them.
“I used to think what a shame it was to be a woman, and always be waiting for a man. Because that’s what I used to do. When a man finds a woman he expects her to cook, to clean, to understand him, to be a good wife. And so she does. Mostly.
“When a woman finds a man she expects he’ll save her by… I don’t know, just being a man. He’ll… ride on his white horse and take her away from all of her troubles.”
She stopped. “Am I telling you too much?”
“Good,” she nodded. “See, cause you should know this. The bargain we make for men. He does sweep us away from all of our troubles, by sweeping us away from ourselves. We expect him to solve everything. He solves nothing. In the end you suck it up and realize you are more or less on your own. For understanding, for finances, for a lot of things. You learn that a man is… very often unreliable.
“And so I had thought how bad to be a woman. But now I think how bad to be a man. And, can a man ever actually rely on another man? I mean, really. I don’t mean being… buddies. Can a man actually, really love another man? Can men love? Or are they just as lonely as they make the rest of us?
“And then I saw Kenny, and you. And there was this part of you that had always been lonely, opening up. I thought, well yes it can be done. It is done. Brendan can do it.”
Brendan didn’t know how to respond, so he nodded.
Then he said, “But, Mom?”
“I… I have been unreliable. I mean, I’ve done some… I haven’t done right by my friends. Or by Dena.”
“But you’re making it right? Aren’t you?”
“Well, yeah. Yes, I mean.”
“You’re not… walking away? You’re not running away?”
“No.” Then Brendan said, “Not anymore.”
Mrs. Miller, who was the same height as her son, lifted his chin and said, “You are brave.”
“No, Ma, I’m not.”
“You are! Most men run away. Most people run away. No one owns up! That’s why the world is what it is.”
Layla walked into the living room with a drink for Brendan and one for Will. She lay on the couch placing her head on Will’s lap, and then reached for her old lemonade and sipped from the straw.
“You all look so happy,” Brendan said.
“Well, we try to keep up appearances,” Will said.
“I thought I made you happy?” said Layla. “It’s all I think about. Day and night. Keeping Will Klasko happy.”
“Yeah,” Will remarked. “I see that.”
“Do you know,” Will told Brendan, “this is the first week she hasn’t called me a bastard or a son of a bitch since we’ve been together?”
“It’s only Wednesday,” she reminded him.
“But you all are happy,” Brendan insisted.
“Of course we’re happy,” Layla told him. “We’re happy as fuck.”
“I want to be happy.”
They both looked at him.
“I mean with Kenny. I thought that if I broke things off with Dena, then when I went back to Kenny, I’d be really happy again. We’d be a couple again. Or, at least, be a couple for the first time.”
Will furrowed his brow to say something intelligent, but Layla, ready to talk, sat up and said, “And now what’s going on? I mean, aside from the fucking?”
Will blinked at her, and Brendan stared.
“What?” said Layla. “How will we take care of anything if we don’t call a spade a spade.”
“Well…” Will said, shaking his head.
“When she’s right she’s right,” Brendan told her.
“No,” he said. “That’s about all it is. I mean, it seems like we can’t really get past that.”
Will said nothing. Layla pursed her lips together.
“You’ve got an idea?” Will said to her. “I see it. I see your wheels turning.”
“My wheels are only turning trying to figure out the right way to say this.”
“Layla, we’ve been friends since kindergarten. You don’t have to think of the right way to say anything.”
“Well, it’s just, maybe you think that since you weren’t loyal to Dena, you have to be loyal to Kenny. And that’s fine and good. But maybe the thing is… you don’t love Kenny.”
“No!” Brendan said with a wince.
Layla looked at him levelly.
“I don’t… I must have loved him. I can love him. I can stick by him.”
“Look, Bren,” Will said, “I bet you think that because you failed with Dena it’s horrible to fail with Kenny. But the only way you’ll fail is if you don’t be true to yourself.”
Layla and Will both looked at their friend, and then turned away thinking it wasn’t polite. Brendan’s face looked so sad.
He said, “I just want to be in love.”
“Brendan?” Kenny looked beyond Brendan and saw no one else was in line.
“I want to talk to you,” Brendan said. “Can we talk?”
“Uh… I’m busy. I mean, I’m on the clock.”
“Okay,” Brendan said.
He turned around where the candy and the magazines were, and dumped them all on the conveyer belt. Then he dumped a pile of Snickers and said.
“Okay. Talk and work.”
Kenny blinked at him.
“Just scan. I need to talk.”
“I was just thinking, Kenny. I want to be in love.”
“I was at Layla’s last night, and she was with Will, and I thought, I want that. Or, you know, Layla’s uncle and Dena’s uncle… I want something like that. I want love. I want real love.”
Kenny continued scanning candy bars and People magazines.
“I want that too, Brendan. It’s exactly what I want.
“I thought I had it with you. I thought we were that.”
“We were,” Brendan said. “But we’re not now. We’re…
“Kenny, if we’re not going to make a go at it, then we should just stop being together period.”
Kenny didn’t say anything right away. And then he said, “I agree, Bren.”
“Uh,” Brendan looked around. An old woman came into line with a loaded cart. She looked like she was eavesdropping, and suddenly Brendan turned around, took a rack of Enquirers and M&Ms and dumped them on the conveyer belt. She took a deep breath, and in disdain moved to the next aisle.
“Kenny, do you love me at all? Because if you don’t, if you’re still mad and we’re still just fucking, then… I don’t see a point in this.”
“I do,” Kenny said. “I can’t stop thinking about you.”
“That’s the way I feel about you, Ken. But I wasn’t sure what it was. I think that I love you, but these last few months have been so…”
“I know,” said Kenny.
“Well,” Kenny continued. “I know I love you. And… Your grocery bill comes to five hundred dollars and thirty-five cents.”
“What?” Brendan began, and then Kenny burst out laughing.
“If you want us to have a future,” Brendan said, “You’d better take that shit off.”
“You’ve been around Layla too long,” Kenny said as he and Brendan began to gather up the candy and magazines.
“I don’t know,” Brendan said. “Maybe there’s always been a Black woman inside of me waiting to come out.”