The words on the screen seemed to pulse against the white background. Despite everything, the monitor glowed an alien shade of green, appearing from across the room to be something out of the "Alien" films of her youth. Jennifer blinked, then laughed at what she'd just read. "These kids need to quit with this fan fiction shit," she laughed and clicked the window on the small Dell closed. "Seriously, the Truth or Dare scenarios are way overdone!"
"What was it this time? Benji daring poor Joel to suck his cock in front of the entire band?" Amberly giggled as she bounced into the small office space. Their apartment was little- though it contained three bedrooms- and Amberly had given up any thought of extra storage space to allow Jennifer this private sanctuary for her writing. They shared the computer, the living space, and a fifteen-year friendship that had outlasted more highs and lows than most marriages.
"No, it was this crap called Her Civic Duties, with like all of the guys and New Found Glory," Jen shook her head slowly, dismissing the piece of writing. "Well-written, but what a crock of shit."
"At least it was well-written," Amberly grinned and patted her on the back. "That story you and Benji read to me the other night was clearly written by a five year-old."
Jen laughed at this. "This was alright, just cliché. I should tell the boys about it when they get here." She sighed, pushed her hands on the heavy oak and swiveled her chair far enough from the desk to stand. "When they getting here?"
Amberly shrugged. "Well, they've only been home like what? Four days? Paul said he's got mad laundry to do, the twins totally bailed, and Billy's head is lodged up Linzi's ass."
"Go figure," Jen laughed as she followed her friend from the office and shut the light. "What's new?"
Amberly snorted and went to the refrigerator to extract a bottle of Diet Coke. "Yeah, anyhow. Paul says Chris is still in town for a few more days, and the two of them are just laying low. So I told them they could show up any time, we weren't going anywhere."
"Right," Jen nodded as she searched their cabinets for a bag of chips. Tostitos, Pringles, and Lays all dominated the cabinetry, but she was holding out hope for the Doritos she'd seen Amberly stash the previous night.
Amberly cleared her throat as she poured her favorite Garfield glass full of soda. "You're not listening to a damn thing I'm saying, are you, Jen?"
Jen stared at her friend and shook her head, then turned back to searching for the lost treasure. "You said Chris is still in town, he's staying with Paul, Paul says they're laying low, and they'll get here whenever cause they're men and are incapable of making exact plans."
"Right," Amberly giggled. "Okay, so you were listening!"
Jen nodded as she extracted the Doritos from a hidden corner and smiled victoriously. "Men are so useless, you know? They can't make plans, it's like in their genes to be impossible to set a time for anything."
"If they did give us a time, they'd end up showing up ten hours later anyway," Amberly grinned as she took another sip of her drink. "So we're better off not knowing. Now we can't get mad at them for turning up late."
"You have a point!" Jen grinned as she gestured at her friend and took a loud crunch of a Dorito. "Paul is absolutely abominable with being on-time. Chris, meh, he's still yet to prove himself either way. But Paulie is the worst."
Amberly smirked as she walked into their adjoined den and threw her athletic body onto the sofa. "But you wuv him so, don't you, Jen?"
"Do not!" Jen objected, turning a guilty shade of pink. "Besides, I've been friends with that bastard since we were in grade school. Trust me, there is nothing glamorous about Paul Anthony Thomas."
"Mmmhmm, I believe you," Amberly laughed as she switched on the television and began to surf through the channels. She passed over Oprah and Springer, searching instead for MTV2 and the few other music channels that the two girls received on their basic cable. She settled on a familiar video, laughing as she dropped the remote control onto her stomach and stared up at her friend. "Look, it's your man!"
"HE'S NOT MY MAN!" Jen groaned and tossed herself into their La-Z-Boy. It was a hand-me-down from Jennifer's parents, a worn out blue armchair that had seen far better days and was nearly Jen's own twenty-three years. "I don't claim any of those fuckers!"
"Such language," Amberly smirked as she cranked the volume and the melodic voice of their friend filled the apartment. "I really do like this video, though. In all seriousness. They did a good job with it."
"Whatever," Jen sighed as she shut her eyes and tried to relax. She'd been at the computer for hours, working on an inquiry for her new novel. Amberly had been patient with her- as she always was- and simply occupied herself around their place, cleaning and cooking, folding laundry and painting. An aspiring artist, Amberly had an immense collection of watercolors that depicted everything from sunflowers and the Heavenly Father, to crazy, wild pointless mixtures that seemed to scream off the canvas she worked on.
"You don't like it?" Amberly challenged, sitting up and staring across the room. "I mean, it's a little..."
"Dramatic," Jen frowned, her eyes remaining shut as she massaged her temples. "I'd never tell them that, but fuck, it's depressing to watch."
Amberly nodded. "True, but it's a depressing song, in a sense. You know how beaten down Joel was when he wrote it."
Jen nodded. "True. Whatever. Like I said, I don't give a fuck."
Amberly frowned and stared at her friend. "You're in a mood. What happened in there?"
Jen didn't respond, simply kept massaging her temples.
"Turned down by another publisher?" Amberly prodded, her voice dropping to a soft, understanding tone. Jen had been a writer all their lives. She'd struggled for years, taking odd jobs so she could spend her nights composing epic stories of love and betrayal, loss and redemption. Her growing desire to publish a novel had propelled the two friends to relocate closer to New York City, where the hub of the publishing world parked their Volvos and worked in expensive and shiny high-rise buildings. Amberly had made the move out of love and support for her friend, and boredom with her small hometown of Waldorf, Maryland. Their new residence- in the upscale beach town of Sea Bright, New Jersey- had afforded her more inspiration for her artwork, and a far greater amount of local clubs to waste her free time in, shopping for a husband.
Jen groaned and sat up in her chair, opening her eyes against the harshness of the track lighting above her head. "Those assholes don't understand quality writing. It's pointless."
"What'd they say this time?" Amberly sighed, understanding her friend's clear aggravation with the world of the written word. This would be her tenth rejection in the past two years- neither of the girls had thought that getting a book deal would be so nearly hopeless.
"They said," Jen hissed with resentment, "and I quote, 'Your material, while well-written and poignant, is cliché and condescending to our devoted audience of readers.' Unquote."
"Ouch!" Amberly sighed, eyeing her friend for any signs of depression. "That's biting. I'm sorry, Jen."
"If it's any consolation to you," Amberly continued, trying to add a lilt of hope to her voice. "I found this book to be tragically poetic, while offering a boundless amount of hope and redemption to both the characters and society, in general. You really raised some important issues, and you did it in a non-threatening, not politically overbearing manner. It was truly a good work. One of your best."
Jen blushed. "Thanks, Am."
The doorbell rang and Amberly hopped off the sofa to answer it. Jennifer raised her gaze to meet familiar brown eyes as her longtime friend entered the apartment and cocked his head curiously to the side. "Why so down, Jellybean?"
Jen giggled and ran to the male, laughing harder as he scooped her up into his large arms and spun her in a circle before placing her feet back to the tiled floor. She grinned and leaned on her tiptoes to peck his cheek. "I was rejected, Paul" she chuckled. "Again."
"Fuckers don't know what they're passing on," the other male offered with a sympathetic grin. "I read what you sent us, and holy fuck. Talent, Jen. You've got talent."
Jen blushed, a deep rouge spreading across her cheeks as she approached the 6' tall male. "Thanks, Christopher. You always know exactly what to say to cheer me up!"
Amberly folded her arms over her small chest and rolled her eyes. "I said the same damn thing and she just huffed at me!"
Both men laughed. "Well, you don't have a penis and a sexy bald head," Chris smirked and hugged Amberly from behind. "You're lacking the proper equipment to make a compliment truly a compliment."
"Apparently," Amberly laughed and pecked Chris on the cheek. "Sheesh."
"What'd they give as a reason this time?" Paul inquired softly as he followed Jen toward the overstuffed brown sofa in the center of the small den. "And by the way, why the fuck did you move to this place again? Do you know what kind of a drive we had to get here?"
"Four hours and thirteen minutes," Jen smirked as she sat beside the black-haired male. "I've clocked it when I've come to visit you."
"Smartass," Paul smirked as he slapped her thigh playfully. "So what was their reasoning?"
"More or less," Amberly sighed as she entered the kitchen and searched the fridge for four beers. "They told her that it was cliché and that it would be condescending to their readers for them to publish it on their roster."
Jen nodded. Chris' jaw dropped as he tossed himself into the La-Z-Boy and out-stretched his long legs. "What?" he stammered, disbelieving.
"They actually said that to you?" Paul inquired, disbelief across his face to match Chris' uncomprehending scowl.
"Well, no," Jen corrected, leaning back into the sofa and taking the Corona that Amberly offered. "They sent an e-mail."
"Even worse," Paul sighed, thanking Amberly as she handed him a Corona, as well. "Those fucktards don't understand what they're missing, seriously. One of these days, one of the publishing houses will extract their head from their clogged up asshole and realize that, hey, they passed on some real talent."
Jen chuckled and sipped her beer. "Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I'll end up fifty, single, and still aspiring to be a novelist."
Chris shook his head and sat up in the armchair that Jen had previously occupied. He removed the hood of his sweatshirt, exposing a bald head and scratching softly at the dark hairs that had started to form across its surface. In other times, he'd have black hair to match his friend's; now, he was simply devoid. "You're too hard on yourself," he sighed, thanking Amberly for the beer. "Much too hard."
"I agree," Paul nodded and placed his hand on Jennifer's denim-clad thigh. "You're very talented, Jennifer Anne Sterling. You put too much pressure on yourself, and you weight too much the opinions of people who don't truly matter. I read the book- I read everything you sent me while I was out on tour. You have talent! I've read everything from Shakespeare to King, Koontz to Plath. I like good literature, and you write some excellent material. Maybe the publishing houses are too afraid to take the chance on a new author who's so young; maybe they're all arrogant, stuffy, unadventurous assholes with red pens. I have no clue. Either way, that doesn't demean the fact that you have talent. I told you I'd pull whatever strings I could, why won't you let me?"
Jen stared at her friend and sighed loudly, placing her hand atop his on her thigh and patting his pale skin. "While I appreciate everything you just said, Paul, and I love you to pieces..." There was a pause while she swallowed down roughly and collected her thoughts. "Your 'pulling strings' would simply mean that I had to have my friend- a successful musician- use his clout to get me a book deal. Which, in the long run, means that I wasn't good enough on my own; I had to have someone else buy me into a deal. That's sinking pretty low, wouldn't you say?"
Paul shook his head emphatically and placed his beer on the coffee table in front of the small sofa. "It's not buying you anything, Jen. It would be me making some phone calls on your behalf. Not a big deal at all."
Jen bit her lower lip and stared into his warm brown eyes. "You don't get it, Paulie. I want to succeed on my own. I don't want anyone pulling strings for me. I don't want my friends- who, if they said jump, ten billion teenagers would- to be the reason that I get a deal. That speaks poorly of me and my writing, that I needed someone else to get the deal for me. My words should speak loud enough on their own."
"They should," Chris agreed, pulling his hood back over his head. "Unfortunately, the world doesn't always work like that, Jen. We make the calls and you get the deal, then you're on your own to prove your talent. If you had no talent, we could pull all the strings in the world for you and you'd still never go anywhere."
"He's right," Paul grinned as he placed the tall neck bottle to his lips and sipped. Chris bowed his head forward for emphasis and smiled victoriously.
"Hey, speaking of the worst writing," Amberly interrupted, sitting on the floor beside their large screen television and running a hand through her long, dark brown curls. "Tell them about that story you were reading online."
Jen furrowed her eyebrows and stared at her friend uncomprehending. "Huh?"
"Before," Amberly shook her head and chuckled. "You said you were reading some really blasé fan fiction. Didn't you say you wanted to tell them about the story?"
Jen's eyes lit with understanding and she grinned. "Oh yeah, I did, didn't I?"
"What were you reading?" Paul grinned, placing his outstretched right leg onto the coffee table. "Anything good?"
Jen shrugged. "Eh, just this fan fiction piece that-"
"Fan fiction," Chris interrupted with a smirk. "Ewe!"
Paul snorted and glared over his shoulder at his friend and band mate. "Was I gay in it?" he inquired, turning his attention back to the girl seated beside him.
Jen laughed at this. Authors on the various websites that catered to stories about their band had a tendency to make her best friend's character a flaming homosexual who either lacked dignity of any sort and was a blundering moron, or was surgically attached to the right thigh of his friend, Chris. In worst cases, he was also surgically attached to Chris' penis at an anatomical spot that Jennifer didn't even want to think about. "Actually, no," she grinned. "You weren't really in the story much."
Paul nodded and sighed loudly. "Thank goodness."
"Did I get to be the bald sexpot that got all the girls?" Chris grinned, sipping from his beer and staring intently at Amberly as she fixed an errant bra strap inside her tight baby doll t-shirt.
Everyone laughed. Amberly blushing as she looked up to meet Chris' brown eyes.
"That sounds like a negative," Chris laughed as he took another swig of his beer. "And I need to take a piss."
"Thanks for the information!" Amberly smirked, biting her lower lip as she smiled up at the drummer. They'd known each other since the day Chris played his first gig with the band, in the sweltering sun of his hometown, Salt Lake City, Utah. She'd liked Chris from that day, his straightforward, jovial manner a refreshing addition to her list of friends. Surrounded by jaded men who lied and cheated as naturally as a woman maxed out her credit cards, Amberly had loved Chris' upbeat, fun way. That night, upon being initiated into the fold, he'd taken off his entire ensemble and raced around the parking lot naked, cheering and grunting, making ridiculous noises in a primal victory dance that amused Amberly to no end. He'd simply made Jennifer roll her dark eyes, but he'd somehow won Amberly's heart.
Jen cleared her throat, trying to pull her friend's attention away from Chris' retreating form. "It was just this story that was set on the Civic Tour."
"Uh huh," Paul nodded, staring at her curiously.
"And it revolved around a game of Truth or Dare," Jen finished, shrugging her shoulders and grabbing her Corona off the tabletop. "That's all. It was cliché, but somewhat well constructed. I mean, there was technique there and the writer didn't sound twelve, but it was hardly a piece worthy of the next Zoetrope screenplay."
Paul scrunched his nose and sighed. "So it wasn't all bad but it wasn't all good?"
"Basically," Jen smiled. "You know, it had the mandatory boy-love and the obligatory naked, drunken Tony antics."
"Of course," Paul smirked, adjusting himself in the seat and tugging his shorts down further over his knees. "What would Internet fan smut be without naked, drunken, imbecilic Tony Lovato?"
Amberly nearly spit out her beer as Jen shook her head in protest. "Hey, at least it's a true-to-life depiction. When have you ever seen Anthony Lovato sober?"
Paul placed a finger to his lip and dramatically pondered the question. "In the past four years since I met him....Never!"
"Exactly!" Jen laughed, Amberly tried to contain her giggles and swallow her mouthful of fluid.
"Can't fault someone for writing the truth!" Paul laughed, pivoting his body to eye Amberly questionably. "You okay over there or are you dying?"
Amberly swallowed and gave a thumbs-up motion. "Still alive."
"Good, good," Paul chuckled, once again meeting Jen's gaze. "So, Tony was drunk, I got left out. What'd Chris get?"
"He got laid, actually," Jen blushed. Chris reentered the room just in time to hear this statement, and skipped toward the armchair. "Right on, finally, Christopher gets some action!"
"Too bad it was fiction," Amberly pointed out, mockingly.
"You win some, you lose some," Chris shrugged. "At least I wasn't cornholing Paul. I wasn't, was I?"
Both girls erupted into laughter at this, a disgusted look crossing Paul's face. "Why's it that I always gotta be gay, huh?"
Jen collected herself and shrugged. "Maybe you're just a gay kinda guy?"
Paul scratched his forehead and winced. "Umm, no. Anyhow, so it was a blasé story and we're discussing it, why?"
Amberly shrugged. "I thought you liked our little fan fiction reports?"
Chris nodded as he swallowed the last of his beer and plodded slowly toward the refrigerator. "We do, actually. It's always nice to hear that our fans are all ten years old and think that we're flaming homosexuals who hump each other raw every night like rabid bunnies. I mean, what could be more uplifting than knowing that your best chance at action every night on a thirty city tour is your fellow band mates?"
Paul snorted and nearly spewed beer out his nose, saving himself with a quick hand over his mouth. Amberly giggled at this, and shook her head at Chris. "You're horrible!"
"Yeah, well," Chris shrugged and fetched a second beer. "My dick is shriveling up from lack of pussy, what can I say?"
"There's a cure for that," Jen grinned, gesturing for Chris to bring more beers for the rest of them. "It's called a prostitute."
Chris wrinkled his nose. "As if I'd do such a thing! What do you think I am? An animal?"
"You're not?" Amberly and Paul questioned at the exact same time.
Chris nodded. "Thanks guys. Thanks for the support, the love, the nourishment of my emotional and physical needs. It's friends like you that make living worthwhile."
Jen and Amberly giggled.
"So anyhow, this story was about Truth or Dare, huh? That gives me an idea!" Chris' eyes gleamed as he handed Paul a second beer, then opened two more Coronas and handed them to each of the girls.