By Tom Foster
Darkness receded as he could feel his eyes opening slowly, struggling to break the crusted excretions that had been growing worse as of late. Wiping lazily at his eyes he winced as his fingernails accidentally struck his lids, gouging only a bit before he pulled his hand away. The prospect of coming fully awake brought the usual plethora of physical ailments he’d become used to over the years; the creaking of joints worn down by age and hard labor, the fullness of a bladder he couldn’t deny and of course, the burning that seemed to coat the entire inside of his throat, lungs and even stomach. He could almost taste the coppery flavor in the back of his throat as he rolled over from his right side to his left, feeling his throat clutch as his stomach clenched in reflex. He was going to vomit.
With eyes that were just barely open enough for him to see past the crust he’d failed to wipe away Morgan Linton stumbled to his feet, doing his best to hold in the acidic flood that began to swell in the back of his throat. Feeling his way towards the door he turned his shoulders to fit through the smaller than average doorway, hastily opening the door before he exited the room. The soft feel of the carpet beneath his feet did nothing to ease a single bit of the pain that now tore with raw fingers at his body as he felt his way along the short hall that would lead to the bathroom. He tried being quiet, lord knew if he woke his two roommates he would have a hard enough time explaining what he was doing up at this hour on a day off, but it was hard given the current situation.
He didn’t even bother to flick the light on as he leaned over the sink, keeping his face close enough to the faux marble basin so that he wouldn’t splash the counter and floor with whatever came up. Morgan’s hands clenched the side and front of the counter as he leaned over, his stomach still clenching and loosening in reflex as he closed his eyes completely, hoping that the force of his regurgitation didn’t cause him to move. Opening his mouth he could taste as the acidic wash of fluid was almost there, almost about to spew forth. And then it was there.
His hands clenched the counter even tighter, causing it to creak as the glue that held it tightly to the wooden cabinet below was strained to its durability and almost beyond, giving just a little as he suddenly realized the fact. Hunching his shoulders Morgan moved his face a little closer to the basin as the foul-tasting spill of fluid rushed from between his lips, coating his tongue, gums and even the backs of his teeth with its foul stink. He didn’t bother to open his eyes, he had no desire to see what was coming out of him today, he could already guess what part of it was. The sickening sweet aroma that was mixed in with the acrid tang of stomach acid was hard for him to miss.
The painful torrent lasted for several more seconds before Morgan felt his stomach muscles relax, giving one final, cramping tug before they went loose again. He
could feel the tension within his body as he began to shake, as though his nerves and muscles were untrusting that the worst was over, that any second another spasm could hit. Morgan couldn’t help but think that his body knew better than he did what to expect, though in all honesty he didn’t care. He would still live as he wanted, do as he pleased and damn all the rest. At thirty-seven years of age he didn’t give a damn any longer, he’d lived what he believed amounted to a full life and had plenty of regrets. Who didn’t these days? At least he could say that he was living on his own two feet without need of assistance from anyone.
It wasn’t entirely fair to think this way about one of his roommates, as the younger man who “owned” the home that he and another friend were staying in had shown a great deal of personal responsibility over the past two years. He’d even gained the nerve to demand rent money from Morgan and their other roommate and friend, Jerry. The owner of the house, Tim, was the type of man who’d been kept under his parents’ thumb for most of his life, and remained there to the present day. Tim liked to bluster and claim that he made his own decisions in life, but at the current moment he worked for his father and was on call whenever his parents so much as whistled in his direction.
Tim wasn’t a weakling by any means, as he’d stood up to Morgan and Jerry more than once. Morgan had to believe though that Tim had known at the time that neither Morgan or Jerry would throw down with him. For all that they rode Tim about his weaknesses of character and the many oddities he enjoyed, the younger man was downright scary sometimes. Morgan had been in more than his share of fights throughout the years, and he knew very well that those who talked and blustered about their fighting prowess were often the ones that crumbled first and hardest.
Tim didn’t talk much. When he did talk it meant he was drunk and quite possibly feeling a little squirrely. That hadn’t happened since the last full moon though, which Morgan found oddly disquieting but also coincidental. Tim was a Cancer on the zodiac calendar, whereas Morgan was a Sagittarius, and Jerry was a Leo. Their personalities fit their signs to a tee, meaning that poor Tim was always one-upped at anything the three of them did just because he wasn’t the forceful personality that he and Jerry were.
But when it came to fighting him, Morgan had come close once, and he’d seen no give in Tim’s eyes when they had stood nose to nose. He’d said something that had irked Tim more than anything he’d ever uttered, and the younger man had stood up instantly, which had provoked Morgan, who had gone nose to nose for several minutes before deciding that the coming fight wouldn’t be in his favor. You just didn’t fight men that had a cause to champion, not unless your own case was stronger. At that point they’d both been drunk and he’d had no better cause than finding the next beer. Tim had been ready to fight for his beliefs though, and Morgan knew that the other man would have fought tooth and nail had it come to that.
Jerry had a much simpler philosophy about fighting someone like Tim, and it went “I don’t fuck with quiet people.”
Morgan knew the sense of this. It was better not to screw around with people that were too quiet. You never knew what would set them off and how badly they would explode when pushed too far. Tim was like that he believed, and this was part of the reason why he could cut the guy so much slack when it came to how he lived.
Spitting the last of his morning regurgitation into the sink he turned the tap on low so as not to wake his roommates. He then began to scrub at his face, taking in large mouthfuls of water to wash away the horrid taste. After only a minute or so of scrubbing he actually began to feel normal.
* * *
At least it was a day off. Morgan was in the kitchen brewing coffee, looking out at the long, overgrown back yard that was a part of the property. The next door neighbors were already up and about, their two little girls laughing and giggling up and down their own driveway as he could hear through the open kitchen window. It was leaning into late October, but the chill morning breeze had the effect of waking him up just a little more, invigorating him in a way he enjoyed.
He’d heard one of his roommates stirring about as he’d exited the bathroom, being careful to clean up his mess before leaving. His friends already worried about him at times, he didn’t need to give them another reason to be concerned. Morgan didn’t hide much from them, they knew that he was slowly going blind in his left eye, and that his doctor had discovered a black spot on his lung only a month ago that might have been cancerous. They’d done what friends normally do in such a situation and told him that if he needed anything they’d be there for him. He appreciated that, but in all honesty he didn’t know if they realized that there was little they could do if things got any worse.
A large part of him insisted that he needed to find a new job, but the rest of him reasoned that he’d never be able to find a job with anywhere near the pay he was getting now. It was a dirty, nasty job he did, but the benefits and the paychecks were enormous, and after scraping by at so many other part-time jobs and working as a CNA for so many unforgiving years, Morgan was quite tired of making shit money doing shit jobs. His current take-home pay per week was around seven hundred dollars after taxes, and despite this accomplishment he was only allowed to keep about half of that, if he was lucky.
Child support, rent, his part of the utilities, and other debts he was still paying off took a large chunk out of his pay. Thankfully his portion of the rent was low, and the utilities split three different ways made them almost negligible. It was child support for his son and the court fines he’d collected throughout his life that bent him over and did him dry more often than not. He was close to paying the fines off, but his bitch of an ex-wife was always careful to gouge him for everything she could. The worst part about it was that the money that was supposed to go to their son rarely ever got spent on anything he could have used.
It went for salon visits, spa treatments, cigarettes, alcohol, nights out at the bar, and anything else that she could get away with. The court had never ordered her to provide receipts that showed that the money was going to Albert, their son, but they had put him through hell year after year. There was a part of him that wanted to ask again and again why he’d ever stuck his dick in Jessica more than once. She’d been meant to be a one-night booty call, nothing more. They’d worked together for a short time before their attraction had become enough that she’d made her way over to his place, intent on just one thing.
After that it should have ended, but obviously he’d been hooked. She was great in the sack, but that was where the fun ended. Despite having a job, Morgan had found out quickly that Jessica was a user, a leech that sucked the life out of people for as long as they lasted. She’d grown up in a home that fostered abuse and treated neglect like it was a minor thing, so it was no surprise that she’d been born to manipulate others. He should have seen it coming considering that his own family were little more than manipulators, but he’d been too focused on the physical pleasure.
The coffee maker burbled in its pleasant way as the aroma wafted towards his nostrils, causing him to close his eyes as he inhaled. A big, lumbering form moved past the open entry to the kitchen, shuffling slowly as his mop of unruly blonde hair waved and jumped with each movement. Morgan couldn’t suppress a small grin as Tim moved by, grunting a “morning” as he passed. Morgan repeated the greeting, not leaving the coffee pot as Tim made his way just around the corner and sat down at the small dining room table in the nook just off the kitchen.
The house wasn’t all that big really, only nine hundred square feet if it was an inch, and the dining space was barely bigger than the laundry area that jutted off the kitchen. Tim though had unofficially claimed this area as his own when his two friends had asked to move in, keeping it as his writing space, his school space, and anything else he needed it for. Morgan and Jerry both knew that their younger friend occasionally used it as his space to look at porn, but thankfully Tim hadn’t ever surprised them by engaging in any self-pleasuring ritual that they’d noticed.
In fact, Morgan had only ever once caught his friend looking at porn on the old and battered laptop he used, and he’d had to admit that Tim’s taste in women was pretty damned good. It was just too bad the guy couldn’t talk to them for shit. He and Jerry had tried again and again to get Tim to find a woman that was worth his time, but lately he’d been pining over some eighteen-year old piece of nothing by the name of Gina. She was a fellow student at Tim’s college who’d fallen for him only about a year ago, and had subsequently asked him if he wanted to attend a concert with her at the Crystal Ballroom in downtown Portland.
That was how their relationship had started, but how it had ended neither he nor Jerry really knew. All that was known was that Tim had been pining for the kid, as they called her, for nearly two months now since she’d dumped him. At least Tim had never lied about that part, but he’d been more crushed about it than Morgan and Jerry could understand.
In a way he could accept why Tim was so heartbroken. He was a much more sensitive person than either of them. He’d come from a good, nurturing family where such values as kindness, honor, and respect held great sway, and had no doubt thought the world was supposed to make sense until it had reached out and slapped him in the face a few times. Tim wasn’t a novice to life by any means, but he still believed that such things as honor and respect were the currency of the social landscape, while Morgan and Jerry knew too well that it took a special kind of person to still believe in such things.
“Oh God,” moaned Jerry as he made his way to the bathroom, managing to poke his head out just for a moment as he called out, “If you need the bathroom for anything speak now or hold your peace for about an hour or two! I’ve got a shit on deck that could choke an elephant!” Without waiting he shut the door firmly behind himself. The sound of the ceiling fan turning on behind the door could be heard as Morgan rolled his eyes. Same old Jerry.
“It’s always nice to have some warning I suppose,” Tim said with a yawn. The
clicking noises that came from his direction alerted Morgan to the fact that the younger man was already online and no doubt beginning or continuing another of his stories. For all that he didn’t appear to be a scholar or even a capable student, Tim was diligent about his studies and more than that, he was one hell of a good writer.
“Screw that,” Morgan said, hating the way his voice croaked, “I’d rather he shove a cork up his ass and use the gas station down the street.”
Tim laughed as he heartily agreed by saying “Si.”
Morgan smiled as he growled, “SI!”
“SIIII!” they both said in unison, laughing at the inside joke as from in the bathroom they could hear Jerry groan.
“Enough with that shit!” he yelled through the door. He had grown tired of their borrowed phrase a short while ago, which meant they used it as often as they could.
“Back atcha!” Tim barked, eliciting another chuckle from Morgan, who was feeling better by the moment as he began to laugh. It was always like this with the three of them, and it was good.
* * *
“Man,” Morgan groaned, “There is absolutely nothing on!”
“It’s Sunday,” Tim said, still sitting at his computer, “What did you expect?”
“If it was football season I’d expect your ‘Hawks to be takin’ a big shit on the field by now.”
“I still say it was pass interference,” Tim said with a raised eyebrow.
“Get over it man, your team lost,” he said with a grin. ‘They lost the Super Bowl.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Tim replied.
“You know, the biggest game of the season.”
“Shut up,” Tim said in a singsong voice that told Morgan he was done talking about it.
“As in, they lose and have to start over again next season.”
“What?” Morgan said with a grin, thrusting his chin out at Tim, “Whatcha gonna do, bruther!”
Tim and Morgan both laughed as Tim strained his voice to emit an “Oooh yeeeah!”
That broke the tension that might have built, allowing them both to laugh as Jerry came walking into the room, heading for the kitchen as he groaned at both of them.
“You guys are so gay,” he said as he began searching through the cupboards. “Hey, who ate my goddamned burrito?”
“It’s in the fridge,” Morgan said, “You tried to put it on the stove last night when we got home you renob.”
“I was gonna eat it!” protested Jerry as he looked and, with a grunt of satisfaction, found the rolled up, bulky item he’d been looking for on the top shelf.
“You’re welcome,” Tim said from his seat.
“Get bent,” Jerry said as he turned to the microwave, “But thanks.”
Tim just nodded his head, this was how life was with his friends. Morgan shook his head in turn as he continued to flip channels, looking for something, anything, that might be entertaining enough to just zone out to. None of them had plans to go anywhere
today, and Jessica had already told him that she’d planned to take Albert and her two
older boys to OMSI for the day. Ever since he’d broken off a three-month fling with his last girlfriend, a strange but lovely young woman named Britta, he’d lost a good deal of drive to do much more than just sit at home and hang around the guys when he wasn’t working.
“So what’re we up to today?” Jerry asked from the kitchen, his voice sounding like the sickening croak of a bullfrog.
“Not much man,” Morgan said, “I’m still kind of hurting from last night. Aren’t you?”
“Shit yeah,” Jerry said, “Doesn’t mean I don’t want to go out again tonight.”
Morgan could just barely see as Tim rolled his eyes where he was sitting. He knew very well that Tim had had as good as time as they had despite the fact that he was still pining for Gina, but he could understand as well that going out wasn’t the big prospect for the younger man as it was for Morgan and Jerry.
They gave Tim a great deal of shit most of the time for his values and morals, but he was in truth a great deal better than the two of them. He had at least held onto the teachings and lessons of his parents in a way that Morgan could not fully understand. His own parents had always shown him little more than a fond type of neglect, always telling him that he was loved but never really showing it like he’d seen Tim’s parents do. They didn’t want to let him go and it showed, but Tim was in the process of shaping himself into his own man despite the fact that he had no chance in hell of stepping away from his parents until he broke from them financially.
“Jodie’s again then?” Jerry said with a grin as the microwave chimed, indicating that his burrito was done.
“Isn’t there anywhere else we could go?” Morgan asked, reclining on the sofa as he finally found a popular cooking show that he liked. It was rerun, but he didn’t give damn, it was interesting. If he could do anything other than what he was doing now it would be to go back to school and learn to cook professionally. He was already invested in cooking when he could, and he knew that his friends appreciated it from the way they always commented on his dishes. Jerry thought he could cook, but in truth was more effective on the grill than in the kitchen. Tim, well, Tim knew how to cook, but didn’t take the full appreciation in his own dishes, preferring comfort food over the more exotic and interesting dishes that Morgan liked to try.
“There’s The Dolphin, or Jiggles,” Jerry offered as he came to sit on the other end of the sofa. The living room now had a rather crowded feel, as from the dining nook to the front door there was only twenty feet or more of space, and the sofa and entertainment center that housed the television took up a great deal of it. Thank God they were friends, otherwise the proximity might be really uncomfortable.
“I almost just want to stay here and drink tonight. You know any females that might want to make their way over?”
Jerry eyeballed him curiously as he continued to eat. Tim had turned from his computer now, inhaling strongly as he looked at Morgan, “You know the drill,” he said, his voice serious and just a bit authoritative as he raised an eyebrow.
“Ah shit man, c’mon.”
Jerry grinned as he shook his head, “His house man, even if it is owned by-“
“You need to stop when you’re already right,” Tim said sternly, frowning even as
he looked back to Morgan. “Don’t get me wrong man. I’m all up for it,” This caused Morgan’s eyebrows to lift in surprise, “But this time the rules are gonna stand. If I say someone goes, I expect you guys to back me up.”
Morgan sat back, rolling his eyes as he remembered just why Tim would say such a thing. The last time they’d had a party at the house they’d made good and damned sure that Tim’s parents wouldn’t get bent out of shape about, which in his estimation was a mark of respect, and that their neighbors wouldn’t mind. The Privets, who lived on their left, didn’t often mind when they got a little loud, but asked them to at least forewarn them if they were going to have a party, or a get-together as they called it. On their right, old Mrs. Widdlemore, a widower of nearly seventy years of age, could barely hear them when they were talking directly to her, and had already professed that once she was down for the evening she couldn’t hear a damned thing. Mrs. Widdlemore was a very cool old lady, and hadn’t even heard the last scuffle that had broken out in their back yard. The Privets had been on vacation thankfully, so there had been no trouble at all since the fight that had taken place had been in the back yard, and gone unseen by anyone else.
But it had come about thanks to an old friend of Morgan’s, someone he’d known since before he’d met Tim. Tom McCall, a friend of Morgan’s for nearly twenty years now, was what most people would call a waste of space. He drank like a fish, he said stupid things without thinking, and more often than not he professed to respect people but talked without pause behind their backs. He’d been a part of Morgan’s life when he had first started getting into trouble with the law, and continued to be a hanger-on type of friend that couldn’t figure out when the party was over.
Morgan had grown up a great deal since meeting Tom, but Tom had yet to understand that being in his upper thirties, almost in his forties, meant that partying every night, drinking yourself into a stupor, and expecting to do it all over again the next night wasn’t the way to be a successful adult. Morgan had learned at least the first part of this, and was working on the success part. Tom though was the same asshole he’d always been, and was kind of proud of the fact.
The last party they’d held here had been going just fine up until Tom had gotten himself soused to the point that his mouth had run away from him. He wasn’t always a sloppy drunk, but that night had been worse than others since he’d not seemed to care who he was talking about or how. Many of the partygoers, people that were either acquaintances or good friends, had done their best to ignore him, but it had been when Tom had decided to rag on Tim that the shit had hit the fan.
Along with their many male friends, Jerry had introduced him to the veritable host of strippers that he’d known for many years, several of whom were knockout gorgeous and had all found Morgan and Tim quite attractive. That night Tim had been talking with a young woman whose stage name was Whisper, and had been having a damned good time as Morgan had seen. The two had hooked up with one another almost immediately when Whisper had gone to talk to Tim, and had been inseparable up until Tom’s little faux pas that had almost ruined the entire night.
In fact, it was safe to say that Whisper might have been the one for Tim had she not moved away shortly before he’d met Gina….
That aside, the two of them had been all over each other, with Whisper doing her level best to entice Tim to escape to his bedroom for a short time it would seem. Tim though, unlike Morgan or Jerry, had politely but companionably replied that while he was
more than ready for such, he didn’t want to bail on the party. He’d told Jerry and Morgan
this afterward, which had prompted them both to call him a goddamned fucktard, right up until he’d told them that Whisper had found it absolutely sexy that he cared about his guests so much. You could label that under weird and unusual, but considering the noises she’d made after the party was long over, neither of them could fault him any longer for letting the moment pass. Whisper had been a regular visitor right up until the day she’d left. In fact, she’d even given Tim a pleasant parting gift…
They could all still recall how Tom had acted and how embarrassing it had been when he’d really gotten going. He’d shown up drunk, still chugging on a forty of Big Bear, some truly rotgut shit, the only type he could ever afford, but had been pleasant enough to start with. Tom was the type of drunk that at least started out friendly, laughing and joking with everyone while attempting to be the life of the party, but after a while his antics usually wound up rubbing someone the wrong way. Eventually this became a problem and could at times cause trouble for whomever he was with.
That night he’d shown up without one of his many ‘filthies’ as he called the women he constantly bragged about. The three of them had met the women that Tom favored, and “filthy” was a kind description in their opinion. Having arrived later than most of the people that had decided to come over, Tom had goggled at the number of beautiful women that had been in attendance, wondering aloud if Tim’s parents had signed off on turning the back yard into a giant strip joint.
Here was the thing, as Jerry had told them both when they’d started frequenting strip joints. While inside the clubs, women were used to being seen as sex objects, it was the whole point of a strip bar. They would dance on stage, climb the pole, jiggle their asses and make their tits bounce pleasingly for the men to drool over, and it was good. But it was also a part of the business. If a stripper decided to get involved with a customer it was their prerogative, but it was oftentimes frowned upon by management. If they did go ahead and take that risk then it was up to them to make certain that their friend, or lover, or however they defined the lucky guy, didn’t make trouble if they continued to frequent the joint.
It took a special kind of guy to not mind if their girlfriend, or even wife, was a stripper. Tim had even stated that he might never be able to date such a woman, but he’d dated Whisper after that night for nearly a year and never said a single damned thing about her profession. Well, the fact that she worked at PDX in Portland had something to do with it as well.
Tom though had seen the party as a means to act like the asshole he usually was, and had given out a hearty “Woo-hoo!” as he’d seen the women, who were dressed in nice, fairly conservative clothing, cavorting here and there. Between Jerry, Morgan, and Tim there had been a number of people there, all of them trusted and all mature enough to simply have a good time and enjoy themselves. They’d made it a BYOB party and had everyone pitch in for pizza, and had made it known that it was just what it seemed like, a general get-together for friends.
But Tom had seen it as a free pass to act like a major douche, as he’d propositioned more than one of the women for a lap dance, and had made the mistake of walking over to Tim and Whisper with his tongue lolling out of his head. He’d even given Tim a leering smile before silently motioning to Whisper, who had wrinkled her full lips in utter disgust as Tom had tried to move behind her. Tim had known full well
what Tom was trying to get at, and had stomached the other’s antics only long enough to
set his beer down and ask Whisper politely to move aside. When Tom had attempted to move with her he’d held an arm out to block him, to which Tom hadn’t responded well. Morgan could still remember that particular conversation, as it hadn’t ended well for Tom.
“Hey man!” said Tom, attempting to knock Tim’s arm down, “Don’t go gettin’ stingy on me! There’s plenty of ass for both of us!” Tom was laughing as he spoke, chugging from each hand, one after another. He wasn’t often a double-fisted drinker, but he had been known to pull this stunt now and again when he was really lit.
“Go on Tom,” Tim said calmly, “She’s not into it, and neither am I.”
“Oooh, don’t be such a little priss!” Tom chided, “I was just joking! I mean damn man, she is a stripper right? Give her an extra five and see if she can hook us both up!”
Morgan had learned through trial and error how to tell when Tim was really fired up, and he knew at that moment, as he hadn’t been the only one observing this scene, that Tim going quiet and still was never a good sign. The only other sign he could see was the minute set of the younger man’s jaw, a sure signal that he was ready to throw down. But still, he spoke again before any fists were thrown.
“Whisper,” Tim had begun.
“Jill, honey,” Whisper had said from behind him. Tim had nodded, correcting himself as he’d spoke again.
“Jill, is a lady, and I expect her to be treated as such when she’s in my home. In fact, I expect every person here to be treated with respect Tom. If you’re not into that then you can leave please.”
Before this point Tim had already asked Morgan not to invite Tom, but Morgan had known that if word got out to his other buddies that they were having a party then soon enough Tom would find out. Tim hadn’t been too happy, neither had Jerry, but they’d at least promised to be nice if Tom showed up. Jerry didn’t care for Tom at all really, but knew how to be civil. He just ignored him.
But he wasn’t ignoring him that night.
“Are you serious man?” roared Tom, still trying to laugh as he looked around, “You’re the one being the prick, not me! I mean shit, everyone around here’s trying to have fun and you’re being all serious,” Tom had pulled a stern face then, acting all stiff and businesslike before becoming his asshole self again, “You need to lighten the fuck up and shit!”
“If you can show some respect you can stay,” Tim had warned, and Morgan had seen his jaw tighten just a little with each word. His fists hadn’t balled up yet, but that took only a second. Tom however had remained oblivious.
“If I call her a stripper it’s because that’s what she is!” Tom roared, “She dances on a pole and grinds on guys’ cocks for money man! Would you want me to call waitress a goddamned, ah, eh, uh…”
Morgan had rolled his eyes as Tom had gone into his drunken fugue state as usual, words failing him as he’d attempted to keep insulting Tim and Whisper. The moment seemed to stretch on for several minutes as Tim stood his ground with Whisper standing resolutely at his back, one hand held lightly upon his right arm as though to hold him back. He could have told her it wouldn’t matter, but Tom made that point in the next second as, dropping both beers, he decided to worsen the situation all on his own.
“Answer me man! You tell me I can’t say shit and then you-!”
Tom hadn’t managed to speak again after that. In fact the next thing out of his mouth had been the short, anguished grunt of pain that had emerged when Tim had grabbed both of his hands, gripping his fingers in a tight, unforgiving grip. Morgan had actually heard bones break as Tim had then wrenched Tom’s fingers back so far that the other man had been forced to kneel or fall over.
He and Jerry had acted then, moving to intercept Tim before he did any real, lasting damage to Tom. Once they’d reached him though it had taken both of them tugging on Tim’s arms to get him to release Tom. Even then, Tom had been stupid enough to get up and try to sucker punch Tim while Morgan and Jerry had been holding him, though the pain in his hands had to have been bad even in his drunken state.
Tom had managed to land one hit on Tim, striking him hard in the cheek, but it had been a mistake that he hadn’t gotten to make again. His hit didn’t even faze Tim, and in fact it was like hitting solid rock as Tom yelled out in agony. Tim though didn’t bother trying to break free, he just rocked back and sent his the ball of his shoe upward to connect with Tom’s chin. The effect was almost comical as Tom went flying from his feet, out cold before he hit the grass.
It had taken some doing to get Tim to calm down, but eventually Jerry and Morgan had deduced that he was well enough to let go. In all honesty it had been hard to tell, since Tim’s anger never manifested as others did. He would go quiet and start breathing heavily, but rarely ever did he do anything else.
Morgan had been the one to drive Tom to the nearest clinic where they’d announced that not only was his blood alcohol level nearly three times over the limit, but he’d broken two teeth and four fingers between his two hands. Tim had also cracked Tom’s right ulna somehow, which had required a splint so it wouldn’t get worse. All in all the visit to the clinic had cost Tom around two hundred dollars give or take, and a deep and aching resentment later on.
Tom hadn’t come around since then, but he’d been in contact with Morgan more than once. Tom Always he asked if he was still hanging around Tim, and if he still lived in the same house. Morgan actually took some satisfaction in telling him yes on both counts. Tom was, in his opinion, a waste of space that he was better off not hanging around with any longer.
“Y’know, it’s not like I set that asshole on you or anything,” Morgan said in his own defense. “He had plenty of women to harass and for some reason he came over and got in your face.”
They knew why too. Tom and Tim had only ever gotten along because of their mutual friendship with Morgan. When Tim had taken to taunting and teasing Tom about the prominent scar that ran over the bridge of his nose, and then the fact that he was missing one of his front teeth, Tom hadn’t taken it very well. He’d told Tim a few times that only his older, more trusted friends could talk about things like that. Unfortunately for Tom this had been after he’d already given Tim shit about his dating habits, his attitude towards women, and of course the fact that his home was owned by his parents. After that no one had bothered to tell Tom that he’d had it coming.
“I can’t stop him from getting wind of a party,” Tim said calmly, “But I promise you this man, if he shows up I’ll be tossing him to the curb. I won’t be nice enough to drive him to the clinic.”
“Is that the one he’s on a first-name basis with?” Jerry quipped, causing Morgan and Tim both to snigger and finally laugh as Jerry continued eating, a big grin on his face. Another thing that Tom was known for, amongst several other disquieting character flaws, was that he would have sex with damn near anything with tits and a pulse. On his own admission he’d contracted crabs, gonorrhea, and what he had once thought was herpes. He’d gone so far to try and have Morgan, who had been a CNA at that time, to take a look at his junk to see if he could tell. Morgan had promptly kicked him out of his apartment that time, and Tom hadn’t been allowed back in for nearly a week.
“I’m kind of surprised they haven’t had a room or something named after him,” Morgan said between laughs.
“Shit no,” Tim said with a laugh, “I’d name a procedure after him at best. Like maybe if someone needed to have genital warts removed or something, call it the “McCall Method”.”
This had the effect of making Jerry choke on his burrito as he spat a bit of meat out, looking over at Tim as he wiped at his lips. “You asshole,” he said, still grinning, “I’m eating over here. Talk about his junk somewhere else, or better yet, don’t talk about it all.”
“Why not?” Tim asked, “He certainly does.”
The sound of the doorbell chiming interrupted their mirth just a bit as thanks to the vertical blinds being drawn across the front windows they couldn’t see who’d come calling.
“I’m eating,” Jerry said as he sat back.
“Not getting it,” Morgan said, settling back.
“No really, I’ll get it,” Tim said sarcastically, rising from his seat to make his way over to the front door, shaking his head as he debated looking through the peephole set high into the tan-colored door. He decided not to as he grasped the knob, turning as the thought that it might be Tom entering his thoughts. It would have been fitting he supposed, as they were talking about the guy.
The person he saw on the other side though had the effect of dropping his jaw as he stood gaping, his eyes wide as beheld the same woman he’d fallen so head over heels with well over a year ago. The same woman he had had to let go when she’d moved away. The same woman who, now, was standing on his front porch, holding a small bundle that, as he looked closer, cooed ever so gently, bright eyes looking out from the swaddling blanket that was wrapped around him.
Tim didn’t know how to react in that moment. Had it just been the woman of his dreams on his front step he would have already let her in, but as he saw the cherubic face of the little boy in her arms, the little infant he noted, he could only shake his head as though to clear it. He didn’t even hear as his friends leaned over to see who it was, nor did he register them speaking her name as he raised his eyes to hers, those wise, luminous green eyes that had captured him so easily before.
“Jill,” he said, his voice sounding decidedly meek as she smiled at him in turn. She was as beautiful as the day she’d left, with only a few lines in her angelic face to indicate that any time had passed.
“Hello Tim,” she said pleasantly, “Can I come in?”
Coming back to his senses he shook his head, opening the screen door that stood
between them, stammering that yes, of course she could come in, come right in and find a
seat. It would appear they had a lot to talk about.
* * *
“His name is Michael,” she said softly, “I named him after my youngest brother.”
Jerry and Morgan had stayed at Jill’s insistence, as she had told them that she wanted them to hear, so they wouldn’t have to pepper Tim with questions later on. What they’d heard so far was beyond words though, and definitely beyond anything they’d expected. It was good to see Jill again, they’d both liked her immensely when she and Tim had been an item, but it was common knowledge that Tim’s parents hadn’t thought much of her choices in career. It hadn’t even mattered that she’d had a second job and was thinking of going back to school, being a stripper just hadn’t been good enough for their son.
“He’s, he’s cute,” Morgan said, sitting only a few feet away from Jill and Tim, who was still looking at the burbling little boy with something between shocked surprise and a mild grin that could have been taken in many ways. After all it wasn’t every day that you were told that you were a father.
“Isn’t he?” Jill grinned, her mood thankfully not dampened by Tim’s inability to say anything yet. Jerry was watching Tim silently, as was Morgan, but so far they couldn’t read exactly what was going on in his head, which would have been nice at that moment. He didn’t look displeased, but the shock had yet to wear off, serving as a type of mask that might have been hiding away other, less pleasant emotions.
“He has your eyes,” she said softly, looking at Tim, “A-and he even, kind of has your spirit I think,” she cooed at the baby for a moment, saying “Strong and silent, just like daddy.”
Morgan almost felt Tim shudder as he seemed to come out of his stupor, shaking himself as he finally drew a breath. Jill tensed just slightly, her lips pressing together as she waited for him to speak. With only mild amusement Morgan noted that they all were waiting.
Clearing his throat, Tim said, “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Morgan almost blew out a sigh of relief. There were so many other questions that Tim could have asked that would have made this already awkward situation take a serious nose dive, but that wasn’t one of them. He could have asked “How do you know he’s mine?” or something equally as offensive like, “I want a blood test.” He felt certain that such words would crushed Jill just then, no matter how strong-willed she’d proven herself to be. He could remember criticizing his ex on something that didn’t matter at all after she’d given birth, and the tears that had come after, followed swiftly by a box of mac and cheese to the head.
Jill smiled, “You were in school, remember? And you were working full time. I, I didn’t want to, I mean, you had so much going for you.”
Tim did manage to crack an uneasy grin as he raised his hands to indicate the house, “Yeah, you can see how that worked out.”
She looked at him blankly for a moment, as though not certain how to respond, but then she broke out laughing, covering her mouth with one hand as she continued to hold the baby, who frowned as though in confusion. “Oh my, I’m so sorry,” she said, still laughing.
“I was just joking,” he said with a genuine smile now, “I’m still in school and
still working full-time, but I manage.”
“Yeah, he manages because we foot two-thirds of the bills,” Jerry said with a smile. He was kidding, but Tim decided to rise to the bait anyway.
“My paycheck’s more than enough to foot it all man. You could always sleep over at Morgan’s with his folks.”
“Shit, hell with that,” Jerry said as he scratched his ear.
“Seconded,” Morgan said with a laugh, “I’d rather go sleep out in the gutter.”
“We might be anyway seein’ as how things are now,” Jerry said, still grinning.
“Oh no!” Jill said, catching on quickly, “I don’t want you guys to think-!”
“He’s kidding,” Morgan said with a grin, “But if Tim here decides to do the right thing, like I hope he will,” he said, poking Tim lightly in the back, “We’ll expect to be needing to find a place soon.”
“Oh guys no!” she protested, “Just because I chose now to show up I don’t want to kick anyone out!”
“It’s okay,” Jerry said, trying to calm her down as the baby began to squirm and mutter. “Just calm down, we’re still kidding. I’d expected to move whenever Tim found someone he wanted to settle down with. Maybe though we’re taking it too fast.”
“There’s a party going on tonight,” Tim said suddenly, “You feel like staying?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, pulling Michael a little closer as her eyes sparkled at the thought, “He needs his formula, and my brother is expecting me back. I don’t know, I might just need to say-“
“Say yes,” Morgan said, “It’s so much more fun than saying no. And besides, you can invite Chris, he’s way cool.”
It was true, Jill’s younger brother Chris had come around several times when she and Tim had been together, and he’d always been a pleasant person to have around. Plus, he could almost match them all drink for drink when it came down to it, and that was saying something. More than that though, he was a good person, and only two years younger than Jill, which meant he was 23 and a legal adult. They didn’t really enjoy partying with kids under 21, it kind of took the fun out of the whole thing.
“Can you call him?” Tim asked, “It would a lot of fun to see him again. We kind of fell out of touch after, you know.”
“Tim I’m so sorry,” she almost sobbed, “I didn’t know until, until I…” A deep, wracking sob forced her stop talking as Tim instinctively reached out and gently took Michael from her, noting that he too was beginning to cry. He almost expected the infant to begin crying as soon as he left his mother, but to his great surprise the baby boy looked up at him, and smiled.
Upon seeing this all three of them felt their eyes widen as father and son looked at each other, really looked at each other, for the first time. Jill’s sniffles subsided slowly, but the smile she wore was one of such warmth that her cheeks almost immediately blossomed with color. Morgan couldn’t fully believe it, though he wasn’t too terribly surprised since his own son had never once cried when Tim had held him. Jerry just grinned as he watched Tim with his son, a son he’d never known about until now.
“Well hell’s bells,” Jerry said, “I think he knows his daddy.”
As for Tim, he couldn’t even speak, couldn’t even breathe as he held the bundle in his arms close, fully enraptured by the tiny life he had helped to create. He didn’t even feel the resentment or anger that might have been the mainstay for some fathers who’d never met their children. Instead he felt a sudden weight lift off of his chest, a feeling of being completely unbound, unchained in a way that he had never once experienced in his life. He was a father. Both Morgan and Jerry, who knew that feeling well, couldn’t help but smile at their friend in that moment.
* * *
“You want me to help with that?” Morgan asked Jerry as the aging, rusted barbecue was lit, a gout of flame erupting out of its back end as Jerry and Morgan both backed up quickly.
“Nope,” Jerry said, snickering as he tossed away the bottle of lighter fluid he’d been using to liberally douse the coals.
“Shit man,” Morgan said, “How much did you use?”
“Damn near half the can. These briquettes are dry as a bone. Plus, I just wanted to see a fireball.”
“Next time put a lighter to your ass when you rip one,” Morgan commented, “There should be plenty of gas in there.”
“Shit, I might blow up the garage,” Jerry said with a chuckle. Morgan joined in as reached for a cold beer from the cooler near the back door of the house, plucking one of many out of the ice as it came free with the clunking sound of cubes hitting one another.
“Yeah, sure, I’ll take one,” Jerry said from where he stood near the grill.
“You hear anyone ask bitch?” Morgan said with a grin, moving to head back into the house. The party hadn’t started yet, but it was only 5 o’ clock, and a few people had already shown up. They’d decided to set the barbecue up in the driveway along with two large coolers filled to the brim with ice cold beer and a few sodas for any who wanted to stay sober tonight.
“Yeah, I heard myself asking. And just for that you can crack it for me too, bitch.”
Jerry and Morgan shared a laugh as Morgan reached into the cooler near the house for another beer, one he knew Jerry would actually drink. As he walked it over he shook his head, handing the brew to his friend by the neck as he said, “There’s two things I don’t do in this world, and that’s kiss a man and crack his damned beer for him.”
“That wasn’t the tale last night,” Jerry snickered, his rotted teeth making an appearance as Morgan suddenly planted one hand on his hip, affecting a rather feminine attitude as he widened his eyes at Jerry.
“Thut up you thilly bitch,” Morgan said, causing Jerry to really laugh now as he walked away swaying his hips before he too broke into a short gale of laughter. This was a running joke between the three of them that had been going on since Tim had introduced Jerry to Morgan several years ago. While none of them were homophobic they enjoyed, now and then, playacting the stereotype that was often shown to represent flamboyantly gay men. It wasn’t something they would do around just anyone, but friends and family seemed to get a laugh out of it, and understood very well that not a one of them were gay.
“I will thcratch your eyes out mithter!” Jerry said, waving one hand in the air with a limp wrist as too cocked one hip. At that moment though Jill came striding out of the house, a wide grin on her face as she took in the little act.
“Some things don’t change I see,” she said with a laugh, “Mind handing me a beer handsome?” she asked Morgan.
He reached into the cooler again, this time taking the effort to take the cap off with a deft twist as he handed it to Jill with a pointed look at Jerry.
“Oh sure!” he exclaimed with a grin, “You’ll do it for her!”
“For a lady,” Morgan said, “Not for a lady who looks like a man.”
“You come over here and I’ll show you a lady that looks like a man….wait, that didn’t sound right.”
Jill and Morgan both busted out laughing as Jerry waved them off, taking a wire brush to the metal grill as the flames went higher for a moment.
“Shit,” he said idly, “What the hell did we have on this thing last time?”
As Jill came outside Morgan went in for a moment, needing to use the restroom as he turned the corner. Tim was just coming out of his room where his young son, which was still processing in Morgan’s head, was now sleeping, closing the door gently as he saw Morgan. Chris had promised to take Michael after coming over to spend some time at the party that evening, but until then the baby would need to stay at the house. Chris had professed to his sister that he’d been in the middle of a particularly nasty day at work that should have been his day off, and would be delayed until at least five.
This news had thrown them all off for only as long as it had taken for Morgan to recall that he had enough baby stuff socked away in Tim’s garage to help out. He’d managed to locate a barely-used pack n’ play that his own son had been using until his ex had pulled her shit, and had gladly given it to Tim and Jill to use.
“Little guy down?” he whispered. Tim nodded, standing at the door for several moments with his head bowed as though in deep thought. Morgan wanted to say that he knew how his friend was feeling, but that wouldn’t have entirely accurate. His own experience with having children had been spotty thus far, and despite the love he held for his son, he’d at least known that the kid was going to be his, and that the woman he’d gotten pregnant would be sticking around. Tim hadn’t known a goddamned thing.
“Hey,” he whispered, “You okay?” It was all he could think of to say, but it felt right at least.
Tim nodded without speaking, but then whispered “You going to use the bathroom?”
Morgan nodded, “Just take a minute. But meet me out front when I’m done. I want to say something to you.”
Tim looked at him, not nodding or doing anything other than walking off in the next second. Morgan didn’t take it personally, with what Tim was going through at that moment and his normal, slightly off-kilter personality, it was pretty standard behavior.
* * *
“She never told me, not once. Neither did Chris.”
Taking a swig of his beer Morgan swallowed before speaking again, “I’m sure they had their reasons man. Chris and Jill are both good people. I don’t know why they wouldn’t think you’d want to meet your kid, but I think they had good intentions at least.” He looked carefully at Tim, noting the slightly frown upon his face and the brooding look he sometimes got when he was thinking. “Are you gonna be okay when Chris gets here?”
Tim only nodded.
“Because, well, you know,”
“Because Chris could have come running over here and told me? Yes, I know.”
“Look man. Jerry and I give you a lot of shit all the time, but the truth is we look up to you, a lot. We don’t give a shit that your mom and dad bought this place. It was you that fixed it up and made it livable. Plus, your parents probably would have said no if we’d asked to stay here, wouldn’t they?”
Tim just nodded.
“But you didn’t. For some insane reason you let us stay.”
“You’re my friends,” he said plainly.
Morgan nodded, thrusting his hands in his pockets as he spoke again, “Yeah but, when I first moved in I’ll admit that I was thinking it might be less rent and more of a free ride. At least so far as the bills were concerned. You didn’t let that happen though.”
Tim managed a grin, “The only free rides you get are when Jerry is too drunk.”
They both laughed, “Man you won’t let me forget that night will you?”
“Not on your life,” Tim said with a grin.
The night in question had been while Morgan was still living with his ex, her two boys, and their own son not far from this place. He, Tim, and Jerry had gotten seriously drunk one night and as a gag, Jerry had decided to slip into Morgan’s bed when he’d gone to pass out. To this day they all still recalled how loud he’d yelled when he’d discovered that it wasn’t his wife that had been snuggling next to him, but one of his friends.
“I still wish I’d had a camera for that,” Tim said, shaking his head. Morgan managed a laugh, thinking that no matter that it had taken them off the subject, it was good to experience such moments. He felt a small twinge in his guts as he stood there, but he did his best not to show it. Taking another swig of his beer he looked at his friend as he swallowed, nodding his head as he began to speak again.
“My point, asshole,” he said with a grin, “Is that instead of just letting us walk on you, you actually stood up for yourself and made us man up for once. I can’t say it was the first time for either of us, but it was needed.”
“You guys have done a lot more in your lives than I have,” Tim replied, “Jerry’s been around the world, you’ve been on your own since you were seventeen. I feel like I’ve been kept under my parents’ thumbs all this time.”
“If that was true we wouldn’t be friends,” Morgan said, feeling the honesty of his words. “I don’t like little momma’s boy’s man, you know that.”
“Yeah, I know that.”
“If anything we’ve grown just as much as you have. It’s true we’ve got a few years experience on you and have done a fair amount of shit, but you’re in the middle of doing more than either of us have ever done. You’re going to school, you’re holding down a full-time job, and now, you have the chance to show what you’re really made of.”
Tim looked at him curiously, though he had to have a sneaking hunch of what Morgan was about to say.
With a grin, Morgan replied this look, saying, “Any man can get a woman pregnant Tim. It takes a father to raise a child.”
Morgan felt the truth of these words so acutely that it almost pained him in a
physical manner to think of how little time he spent with his own son. He wanted so
badly to be near him, to have him closer all the time, but his bitch ex wasn’t having it.
He’d done nearly everything short of begging, and still she attempted to dictate the terms of visitation, no matter what the courts said. It didn’t help that her family didn’t like him at all, and would either vouch for her or scrounge up anyone off the street they could find to bear witness to events that never happened, like for instance, he’d apparently just spent a long, four-day weekend with his boy just last week, but in truth she’d promised to leave him at the house only to later on state that she didn’t feel like bringing him over.
That was the kind of shit he dealt with on a constant basis, and it killed him each time she decided to be a bitch like that. He seriously hoped Jill would never do that to Tim, and in truth he didn’t think it would happen. He’d seen how she looked at Tim before now, and the tears she’d cried when arriving had been genuine.
“I just don’t want to screw up,” Tim said as they could both see cars coming close to the curb outside the house now, people waving at them as Tim and Morgan waved back.
“None of us do Tim,” he said companionably, “But almost all of us will at least a few times.”
* * *
Only an hour later the party was in full swing, with nearly twenty or more people congregating on the back lawn and through the kitchen and living room. There was music, there was food, beer and alcohol were abundant, and the general mood was one of absolute enjoyment. Jerry had managed to come through on his word that he could contact and deliver several stripper friends that were known to work throughout several different clubs in the Portland area. Most of them were hot as all get out, and a few of them were even pleasantly single, as Morgan had discovered when he had began speaking to a woman his own age. Her stage name, as she had told him, was Diamond, and her real name was Bridgett. It went without saying that he preferred her stage name.
Jerry was conversing and cooking at the same time, talking at the moment about NASCAR and what he’d been doing lately with his brother Micah, who was pretty cool but a little odd sometimes. Other mutual friends had shown up as well, and thus far the party had been going damned good. Tim and Whisper, Jill, he still had to keep in mind she was no longer a stripper, had been back and forth between Tim’s room and the party, checking up on Michael now and again.
So far the little tyke was still sleeping despite the noise outside, and each time Morgan stole a glance around he saw Tim and Jill constantly together, almost as if no time at all had passed. He would never admit it to his friend, but he was touched in a way that Tim had seemingly found someone he truly connected with. Jill was his match in every way it would seem, kind and social where Tim could be a bit moody and didn’t enjoy crowds. He was doing just fine while in her company though, talking to people he’d either just met or had known for some time through Jerry and Morgan.
It was a perfect evening thus far, but like all such perfect moments, Morgan had almost known that someone was bound to throw a cog into the works. And lo and behold, that cog’s name was Tom McCall.
How he snuck into the party Morgan would never know, but upon noticing he was there Morgan and Jerry did their absolute best to corner him before Tim managed to notice. Morgan didn’t doubt for an instant that Tim would simply forgive and forget the last time that Tom had come over for a party. In fact, considering that Tom had not been back over since that time, it was safe to assume that Tim’s anger towards him had been given a chance to settle.
Morgan and Jerry reached him at about the same time, but it was Morgan who spoke first.
“Dude, you need to get the hell out, right now.”
“Well hello to you too asshole,” Tom said, his lopsided grin showing the gap in his front teeth where he’d supposedly gotten it knocked out during a brawl. Morgan knew better, he’d fallen down after drinking too much and hit a curb outside a bar.
“Don’t give me that shit Tom, just turn around and walk off.”
“Fuck you man!” Tom tried to protest, pushing back against Jerry and Morgan as he did, to no avail of course, “I came to party!”
“You weren’t invited you dipshit!” Jerry replied, “I specifically said ‘no toothless, scar-nosed, homeless, herpes-infested ass bandits!”
Tom looked like he wanted to swing just then, and Jerry saw it. “Go on then motherfucker! Go on and swing, I fuckin’ dare ya!”
They’d reached the incline of the driveway now and Tom was backing up just enough to keep his balance. To Morgan he looked like he’d had a few already before coming here. It was probably the only reason he was brave enough to pull this shit.
“Fuck you man!” Tom said again, “Morgan are you gonna put up with this? You and me man, we’ve known each other for years and this is how you treat me?!”
“Just get out of here Tom,” Morgan said, looking away. Tom knew very well was this gesture meant. It meant that he was done talking, he’d grown tired of his bullshit, and was ready to move on. He was going to look back just then but before he or Jerry knew it a body was pressing between them and was then barreling towards Tom, or rather, into him.
“Tim, no don’t!”
Jill was hot on Tim’s heels but was too late to stop anything as Tim ran right over Tom, knocking him to his back before straddling him, his knees firmly planted on Tom’s arms to keep him from moving. Disoriented and no doubt wondering just what the hell had hit him, Tom was looking left and right, dazed and obviously confused as Jerry and Morgan were there in the next instant, fully aware that Tim and Tom’s forward momentum had almost taken them into the street. Already they could see a few people up and down either side taking note of this spectacle as they tried to pull their friend off, feeling him fight with everything he had, which was far more considerable than they’d expected.
It was like trying to hold back a two-ton, rampaging bull, and they were having about as much effect.
“Don’t man!” Morgan said, doing his best not to shout, “Someone’s gonna call the cops and then what? Are you gonna go away for this piece of shit?”
“Fu-, fk, yu, mn.” Tom said from the ground.
“Get out of here Tom,” Tim said coldly, his voice the temperature of a glacier as he gradually calmed down, “Get out of here and don’t come back.”
“An, an’ what, wha-“ Tom tried to say, struggling to get back to his feet. There were a few partygoers meandering around the front porch and the front lawn, and each one of them were looking at the five of them, perhaps wondering what Tom had done, or maybe that they should join in. Being friends and friends of friends they didn’t seem inclined to start hurling insults or take Tom’s side. That was something at least.
“It’s really important you don’t finish that sentence asshole,” Jerry said, not releasing Tim until their friend had finally taken a step back, allowing Jill to wrap him up in her arms as she began to ask if he was okay, if he had hurt himself. No one gave a shit about Tom in that moment, nor did they particularly care if he wobbled his ass into the street or not. Morgan stood there long enough to make certain that he got up and walked off under his own power, but not a word was spoken between them as Tom walked away. He’d made his choice of friends some time ago, and this was just the inevitable finally happening.
To be honest, it felt pretty good.