Jade McQueen sat alone in the her blue tour bus. There was peach colored teddy bear underneath the seat. She had picked up at FAO Schwarz a few weeks ago. It was a present for her Casper, her lover. Actually, it was a peace offering. Casper was upset by the rumor that was going around about Jade. Apparently, Jade was being unfaithful on the road. Also, there was an allegation of drug abuse. That allegation struck a chord with Casper. Before Jade hit the road, her and Casper had come to an agreement. Casper was going to leave Jade if she didn't stop using drugs.
The bus stopped and started. It stutter stepped through the rush hour traffic and it tried to make as headway as it could. The movie marquees glittered and they were colored like popcorn. A red suited soldier with a butterfly vest was handing out Wonka bars to a bunch of bland speaking kids.
Jade watched the kids as they stumbled into FAO Schwartz and then she went into her jacket pocket. She counted the money that was in her wallet. There was a twenty dollar bill that was stained with purple lip gloss and there was one five dollar bill. It's ink was faded along the left hand corner. Jade pulled out a rubber vile and unscrewed the black cap. She put the dropper to her left nostril. Jade's head snapped back and her nostrils burned. The sounds and the sights slowed to a stop. They moved in a hazy, silver looking form of slow motion.
The phone rang. Jade's lover was watching the Acme Hour. She was rather enjoying the saga of "Tom And Jerry." Tom was the cat and the cat got smashed into tiny pieces by a perfectly thrown brick. The brick was thrown by Jerry. Jerry was the mouse.
Jade sniffed her nose. She tried to steady her mind. It was whirling and spinning. Casper's number rang four times, Jade watched the traffic as it crawled to a stop along the sun soaked Mag Mile.
"Yello," said Casper, jumping from foot to foot. She was as bubbly as ever. She greeted every caller warmly.
"Cas, it's me. It's Jade."
"Jade, oh my god! Where are you?"
Jade paused. She tried to think of a decent lie. She wasn't proud of her unemployment status. That is, her record contract was terminated. Terminated for insubordination. In other words, Jade missed a promotional tour.
"I'm back in Chicago. I'm um. I'm on a break from the tour."
"That's, that's wonderful. You bein back in town and all."
Casper was conflicted. She loved Jade, she loved being with her. However, her life was a lot more quieter when Jade wasn't around. Casper liked the down time. Besides, Jade was a high maintenance type of gal.
"Do you love me?" asked Jade, sniffing her nose.
"Of course I love you," Casper purred, as she shuffled from foot to foot.
"Say it again," Jade whispered methodically. Her voice was almost inaudible. Jade leaned her head against the seat. She juggled the vile that was in her palm. Jade saw the wings of the Hancock building.
"Tell me something first, " laughed Casper. She tried to keep her voice from fading away. She had a nasty habit of not always speaking into the phone. Casper cleared her throat and looked at the cigarettes on the kitchen counter. Jade was such a bad influence on her.
"What do you wanna know?" asked Jade. Her head spun rather lazily from side to side and her eyes sparkled and her mouth opened slightly. It opened and then it closed. She wondered if someone else was controlling her mouth.
"Did you take my ring?" Casper asked.
Casper heard the beeping of a car horn and she heard the whistle of a traffic cop on Michigan Avenue.
Silence again. Casper heard her lover's breathing. She heard the sniffing of Jade's nose.
"Did you take my ring?"
"What ring?" Jade asked, taking a breath.
"The ring you brought me for Valentine's Day," Casper said softly, trying to find the truth without pointing a finger at anyone.
"No, no. I, I. I didn't take it," said Jade, putting her hand over her eyes. Jade looked out the window. She felt guilty, not working and all.
"Yah, I'm sure Cas," sniffed Jade. Her voice rose just a bit. Casper was so fucking uptight.
"What the fuck does that mean?"
"It means that I believe you Jade."
"Do you really believe me, Cas?" Her voice was barely above a whisper.
"I believe you," breathed Casper. She tried not to laugh when Droopy cracked someone in the head with an oversized Acme mallet.
"I bought you a present, Cas."
"You bought me a present?" asked Casper. She tried to sound surprised. She wasn't though. Jade was a different person she wasn't using coke.
"I'll give you your present when I get home."
Casper was silent. Jade heard the circus like music of a cartoon. She wondered about Casper and she wondered about their relationship. Jade looked at the vile and it reminded her of an hourglass. She wondered why she was so tired and she wondered why here eyes were so heavy. It was hard to keep them open.
"Jade? Are you ok?"
"I'm fine," she said, looking down at the floor. Jade felt a weightlessness in her head.
"I love you," whispered Casper.
"I love ya, Cas."
Jade clicked off. The phone dropped from her hand and she closed her eyes. Jade leaned her head against the window. She traced the glass with her index finger. Jade reached into her pocket. Jade removed a piece of yellow paper from her pocket. She smoothed the wrinkles and smiled at the small, disjointed handwriting on the envelope. It was Quinn Hemmingway's handwriting. He was old an friend that she dropped in on from time to time. They had been attracted to each other once. Eventually, their relationship turned platonic. At some point, Jade discovered something. She was attracted to women. Needless to say, the romantic spark was forever extinguished.
Jade skimmed the letter and she talked while she read. The word, "successful writer," caught her eye.
She stuffed the crinkled yellow paper back in the envelope and turned it over. Jade silently recorded Quinn's address. She repeated it a few times until it stuck in her mind.
"I'm going to have to pay him a visit," laughed Jade, stuffing the letter back in her pocket, seeing no reason to preserve it.
Casper looked at the receiver and then she placed it back in its cradle.
"All is not well with Jade McQueen," said Casper, shaking her head. She wondered if she was being paranoid. Jade was a big girl and Jade could take care of herself. Casper wondered if she was just nitpicking. Maybe Jade had finally cleaned up her act. Maybe. Casper had her doubts. She certainly had her suspicions.
While Casper was wrestling with her thoughts, Jade was inhaling a line of coke through her right nostril.
Quinn Hemmingway stood at the podium. He felt a lump in his throat. He looked out at his fellow AA members. His lips were dry. A guy with mutton chops was watching him. Mutton chops was sitting in the last seat. He was sitting in the last seat in the last row. There were four rows in all and there were five chairs in each row.
Mutton chops was wearing a San Francisco 49ERS cap. He was sharing a square with some lady. Her hair was tied in a ponytail. The tendrils slithered out of a purple scrunchie.
Quinn saw her and he saw the orange light of her cigarette and he felt the smoke in the back of his throat. It lingered in the air and everything looked smoky and everything looked like a silhouetted version of heaven and everyone looked like an angel and everyone had a surreal sort of glow. The spotlight hung from a long metal pole. It was tacked on to a dingy red curtain. Quinn looked left. He saw his sponsor. She gave him a smile and an enthusiastic thumbs up. Quinn smiled back. He wondered if it was appropriate to be funny and or, self-deprecating. Afterall, he coped with his problems by laughing at them. That was his nature. Then again, he didn't want to alienate anyone. Some people weren't into humor.
Quinn Hemmingway put his mouth to the mic and as he spoke wondered if his words were going to come out. Quinn wondered why a bunch of strangers were interested in his sob story. Quinn's mouth opened and he felt a tingle in his stomach and he watched his hands as they settled down on either side of the podium.
"My name is Quinn, and I'm, an alcoholic."
The crowd greeted him in stereo. Quinn tried his best to make eye contact with everyone in the crowd. An old timer crossed and uncrossed his legs. He licked his lips and then he leaned in. He waited for the young hotshot to begin.
"I'm an alcoholic," he said again. Quinn looked at the blue book that was resting beside his arm. It was so thick and it was so fucking pristine. It had blue spine and it had small, golden lettering. Quinn looked at the small round chip that was in his hand and he felt the smoothness of the plastic and he felt the smoothness of the hand stitched letters that said "AA." Quinn bounced the chip in his hand and then he cradled it in his palm. He snuck a glance at his sponsor. She was sipping decaf from a Dixie cup.
"My um... My low was um... My low was sixty days ago." The addicts nodded in recognition. They knew where he was coming from. Quinn twisted and turned and he lunged at the mic and he sighed alot and he looked up and he wondered where was Jesus was. and he wondered why public speaking had been invented. Quinn's mouth made a sucking sound whenever he paused and he wondered about his audience. He wondered if he was losing them and he wondered if anyone cared about his speech.
"I, um... Shit." Quinn looked down and then he pounded the podium lightly. He was reluctant to pick his head back up and he was reluctant to make eye contact with anyone. A guy in the third row took a puff of his cigarette and then he looked over his shoulder towards the doorway and then he watched the clock. It was eight P.M exactly.
"I was a writer once. Did you know that?" The room went silent. A few people coughed and a few chairs squeaked and an addict with a Parkinson's tremor fidgeted in her chair.
Quinn approached the mic from the left. He turned into it rather awkwardly. Quinn licked his lips. He thought that someone was falling asleep in the second row.
"Yah, I was a writer once. I um..." Quinn stopped and he put his hand on his chin and he ran his fingers through his hair and he laughed nervously and he felt the chip in his hand and he wondered about the validity of the chip and he wondered about the success rate of the program. One thing was for certain. Quinn still hated public speaking. "AA" hadn't changed that fact.
"I um... I pissed my talent away. Well, I was ah... I was never published. I thought that I was ah... I thought that I was a great writer. I thought that I was a great writer when I was drunk." Quinn scanned the crowd and he saw the lady with the Parkinson's tremor. She was dabbing at her eye with a Kleenex.
"I've been sober for sixty days..." Quinn pointed to his chip, the one that was in his palm. He slid the chip into his pocket. Quinn wondered if he was being sacrilegious.
"It's been the toughest sixty days of my life. You know, I lied to my best friend. I told her that I was a big shot writer."
He took a deep breath and laughed nervously. Quinn watched his hands. They rested on the podium for a moment and then they flew off. He wondered where they were going. Quinn looked at his sponsor. A tear rolled down her cheek but she still managed a smile. She tried to instill some confidence in her latest reclamation project. His name was Quinn Hemmingway.
A few weeks later...
Quinn's neighborhood featured a taco shop with a rather large Puerto Rican flag on its roof. The neighborhood High School sat empty. It waited for fall. The students returned in the fall. The local food mart had a computer printout tacked on its window. It said: "WE DO NOT ACCEPT FOOD STAMPS!" A leaf crunched beneath her feet Jade's feet. She looked at the scrap of paper that she had written Quinn's address on.
Jade pushed open a rusty iron gate and in the process, she managed to avoid a pigeon. She looked up. A mulatto child looked down at her from the third floor window. Jade reached her in pocket but she didn't feel anything but lint. At some point, she was going to have to make a drug run. She knew a guy on Broadway that was carrying. Then again, maybe Quinn was still carrying. For all she knew, Quinn was still a party boy. Of course, that was ages ago. Jade approached the front door. She was appalled at the cracked pane of glass and she was appalled at the sight of the door knob. It was hanging on for dear life. Jade scanned each name. Hemmingway's buzzer was the third one from the bottom. Jade rang the buzzer. She rang it again. She wondered why Quinn was living there. This neighborhood was beneath him. Quinn was a big time writer for goodness sake.
The Meet And Greet
"Can I ask you a personal question?"
Quinn smiled. He watched her as she played with her curls.
"Go ahead." Quinn eyed Jade's bottle beer, the one that was on the cocktail table. He could never refuse Jade. If she said she needed beer, then she needed beer.
Jade grabbed her beer bottle by the neck and took a swig. Quinn followed her with his eyes. He watched her swallowing organs and he tasted the liquid as it traveled down her throat.
"What are you doing here? This neighborhood is shit. I thought you were a hotshot writer."
Quinn watched Jade. She placed her beer bottle on the table. She missed the coaster by a few feet. Quinn's legs went numb and he couldn't feel his fingers and his forehead was drenched with sweat. Quinn crossed and uncrossed his legs. He clasped and unclasped his hands. Quinn put his hands on his lap and then, he took them off just as quickly. Jade smiled and then she put her hand on her cheek and then she sighed rather seductively.
"I'm in AA Jade."
"Get the fuck out!" she laughed, playful smacking Quinn in the shoulder.
Quinn nodded and flashed her a smile. The smile was reassuring. It said, "this is a good thing."
"Jade, I'm not a writer. Shit. I'm broke and I'm disillusioned. I don't even have a home. This is my friends place, he's just letting me crash here. In other words, I'm full of..."
Jade nodded. She finished her sentence with a flair that was all her own.
Quinn stroked her cheek and his fingers lingered on her skin for a moment or two. His little gesture hadn't changed anything.
Quinn's relationship with Jade was still "platonic."
"When is your album coming out?"
Jade thought about the question. She didn't want to lie to Quinn. Quinn Hemmingway was her best friend. She put her hand on Quinn's knee and patted the fleshy part of his leg. She wondered if she was leading him on.
"Well Quinn, the fucking record label dropped me."
"Why did they drop you?"
She threw her head back and pouted slightly. She gave Quinn that famous grin of hers. Jade didn't want Quinn to worry about her. The illusion of control was all she had left.
"I wrote all my songs about Casper, my lover. The record company went ape-shit. They gave me this bullshit about pronouns, which ones I couldn't use. I stuck to my guns, and they canned me. The motherfuckers won't release my album. They said that I was a god-damn primadonna."
Jade swigged from the bottle. She made an orgasmic sound as she swallowed. She was blissfully unaware of Quinn's tongue. It was on the floor. At that moment, Quinn had an epiphany. He understood why some addicts couldn't be in the same room with an alcoholic beverage. Yes, the temptation was to much to bear. Quinn Hemmingway understood this idea all to well.
"She's the woman I'm dating."
He couldn't imagine Jade McQueen as a lesbian. The whole idea was rather bizarre. They had flirted with each other in High School and they had even lost their virginity to each other. He wondered if he was good in bed. Perhaps bad heterosexual fornication had turned Jade McQueen into a lesbian. Although, Jade was always different. She always thought of herself as an "omni-sexual" being. In other words, she didn't love anyone but herself.
"Are you happy?" Quinn asked.
At that moment, she thought of Casper. In truth, Jade was tired of Casper. Yes, their relationship wasn't going anywhere. Casper wanted sainthood and total monogamy. Jade McQueen was incapable of both.
She looked at the cabinet and she saw the Alcoholics Anonymous book that was sitting on top of the television. Jade shook her head. All that blue book dogma freaked her out.
"You're glorious, huh?"
"Well, I could use some blow."
Quinn coughed. He felt the gears clicking in his mind. He wanted desperately to change the subject. Cocaine was the last thing that he wanted to talk about.
"Are you free for dinner?"
"Why Quinn, are you flirting with me?"
"No, I just wanna have dinner with you."
"It's a date," she laughed.
"I promise," she cooed. Jade placed her hand over her heart and she batted her eyes at Quinn.
"I mean it, Jade."
"I know, I know," she said, drifting into the kitchen.
In a few days, she was going to be bouncing off the walls. You know, withdrawal and all. Jade needed a hit in the worst way. She had doubts about this promise she had made. Jade wasn't strong enough to keep it.
The chandeliers sparkled and the ceiling fans rotated rather quietly.
Jade ordered the Ravioli dinner with extra meat sauce. There were three margarita glasses on Jade's side of the table. Two of the margarita glasses were empty. The third one was almost empty.
There was a plate of Spaghetti on Quinn's side of the table. It was smothered in Romano cheese. It sat opposite the wicker basket. The breadsticks hadn't been touched. He sipped his Pepsi and grimaced. The ice cubes had melted and Quinn couldn't taste the sugar anymore. He felt himself slipping. For some reason, he had a hankering for Scotch. Scotch on the rocks.
"Another Margarita!" barked Jade, snapping her fingers at the waiter. The waiter with the blue vest. The waiter with the perfectly creased dress pants. The waiter dismissed Jade with a sigh. His glance said it all. "She's just another drunk. Seen one, you've seen em' all."
"You promised," whispered Quinn. He leaned in and then he glanced over at the patrons that were sitting across from him and Jade. Quinn wondered if he was talking to loud.
"Lighten up," she slobbered. Jade leaned her elbows on the table and then she dismissed Quinn with a wave of her hand. She was unaware of the drool that was on her chin. Quinn saw the drool though. In fact, he thought about wiping her face. But then he remembered the molar that Jade had knocked out on New Years Eve. Yes, Jade wasn't the most pleasant person to be around when she was drinking. Besides, Quinn didn't want to lose anymore teeth.
"I'm on the wagon, Jade."
"Like I give a fuck," she said. Jade pounded the table and then she put her hand on her temple. The guy from across the way shot her a look. He said something to the lady in the pearls, the one that was sitting across from him. He dug into his pasta primavera and shook his head in disgust.
"This is not fun anymore," Quinn said, leaning back in the chair. He dabbed the side of his mouth with a napkin and then he looked at Jade. He watched her as she picked at her dinner. Quinn grabbed his soda glass and when he took a sip he only tasted water. He understood why people drank soda pop without ice. Ice cubes were so annoying.
"Where's my fucking drink?" Jade hollered. She throwing the fork against the plate and then the whole place stopped. Heads turned and forks were suspended in mid air. Everyone looked at Jade, the troublemaker. She slid her chair away from the table. The owner looked at Jade and then he looked at his reservation book and when he lifted his head up he repeated the name Jade's name. He wasn't going to allow this belligerent bitch in his restaurant again.