Neutral Territory Ch. 09byPS_Lopez©
I didn't make it to The Henhouse until eight. Well, I managed to park there at six thirty or so, then I just spent a while walking along the road. I couldn't get rid of this restlessness, and even now I didn't feel like sitting, but I wanted to talk. Sabriana had gone to bed early because she'd caught a bad cold, and I didn't want to bother Tina and Nevin--especially since they associated with Geoffrey. I didn't know if they knew of his change in attitude, and I didn't want to do anything that would cause Tina to confront him about it. That left Drew.
We'd become friends over the past several weeks. Tonight, though, I just sat at the bar and ordered my usual. As soon as Cindy sat my Black Russian on the bar, I picked it up and drained it. She stopped walking away and returned, frowning a little. I gripped the glass, and Cindy carefully peeled my fingers away from it.
"What's up, Si?"
I sighed and let her take the glass. "Geoff."
"Are you going to guzzle the next one I give you?"
I shifted, digging in my pocket, and tossed my keys onto the bar. "I'll get a cab."
"It'll be expensive."
"So will getting drunk here be."
She pushed my keys at me. "Just go to a liquor store and stock up. Drink at home."
I chuckled a little, but it lacked any real amusement. "Refusing a customer? You're turning business away."
She sighed. "You're a friend, Si."
"I don't want to drink at home. My sister's sick."
Cindy regarded me for a minute, then nodded. She picked up my keys. "If you haven't left by closing, I'll take you home."
She smiled. "It's the least I can do."
I propped my arms on the bar. Cindy brought me another drink. This time, I only drank half of it. "Blue Bayou" already played, but I could live with it tonight. It fit my mood for once.
After a while, Drew perched on the stool to my right. He looked at me, eyed my debit card on the bar, considered my drink for a moment.
"Which one is that?" he asked.
"Number four. Cindy has my keys."
"How often do you get drunk?"
"Not since college." I drank half of what was in my glass and set it down, then picked up my debit card and tapped it on the bar a few times before looking at it. Silas H. Jenson. I showed it to Drew. "My middle name is Henry," I told him in a conspiratorial murmur. I sat up and tapped the card on the bar again. "Mom would call me 'hen' to get me to behave when I was a kid. I still hate my middle name." I drank the last of what was in my glass and set it near Cindy's side of the bar.
She came over a few moments later with another Black Russian and set it near me. "This is the last one."
I nodded. "Thanks." A glance at my phone told me it was just about nine thirty. I could feel the buzz, and my eyes didn't want to focus quite as well any more. It seemed like Cindy wasn't stinting on the alcohol in these things. No wonder she'd said this was my last.
"Is it Geoff?" Drew asked.
I nodded. "Yeah." I went over the whole story again. I didn't notice any appreciable difference in the state of my dread over the situation when I finished and sighed in disappointment. A few swallows of my drink didn't help, either. At least it tasted good.
"Why not just tell him?" Drew turned his glass of beer around one-handed.
I tapped the bar with my debit card again. "I probably will eventually. Right now I just don't want to hurt him again."
"Well, then you're stuck being miserable."
I snorted a little, feeling the first bit of amusement in days. "Makes me want to give up." I sipped my drink. "I keep making mistakes with him."
"It's easy to when you're dealing with someone going through what he is."
"You been through it?" I looked at him.
He shook his head. "Friend. Got involved with a man who was married and had kids. You know, full-blown closet case. Fell in love with him. Worst part was that the closet case fell in love with him, too. Totally destroyed the life he'd built up, and his wife convinced the courts he was a bad influence. He doesn't even have visitation with his kids."
"Is he still with your friend?"
"No. That fell through during the divorce. Jody couldn't handle the stress and broke up with him. Edwin has nothing now. Just an empty life." He sighed. "Edwin's more my friend now than Jody is. I feel sorry for Edwin, and I wonder how he gets through each day without a complete breakdown."
I nodded, gazing into my drink. It sounded like Edwin at least wasn't pretending any more. Still, I wouldn't have wanted to be in his position, divorced, separated from whatever kids I'd had, without even the comfort of the man who'd instigated the whole mess.
"You spared Geoff that at least," Drew said.
I frowned at what remained of my Black Russian. "I don't know. He's different than us. I sometimes think I should have just not bothered opening my door the day he knocked on it. I could have spared him a lot of heartache now."
"Are you saying that he would be better off trying to live straight?"
I shrugged. "Maybe. He did it before and was pretty successful at it. He at least knew who he was then and didn't feel like he has to be something he isn't." I sipped my drink and set the glass on the bar a little hard. It rapped once, solidly, but the sound didn't satisfy my frustration. "It's my fault, really. I've made him feel like he has to be this way. It's not a pleasant feeling."
"No, I imagine not." Drew sipped his beer. "But that's no reason to wish him onto a path that would eventually make him miserable and might destroy whatever life he'd built upon the lies."
I shook my head. "I don't see the difference in the lie he's telling now and the lie he would have lived otherwise. He says he wants what I want, but I don't think he really does, not for real. I think he's lying to himself about it. I think he's going for it because he knows I want it."
"Then you need to sit and talk to him about it, no matter if you think it'll hurt him. That's the only way to keep him from having a breakdown."
I nodded. I knew Drew was right, but I couldn't find the courage. I finished off my drink and waved Cindy over. She accepted my debit card and I brought out my phone while she did whatever it was she had to with my card.
Drew's hand closed over my phone. "A cab would be expensive."
I considered the warmth of his hand over my fingers. It comforted me a little. "Well, I'm certainly not going to walk home."
"You can sleep on my couch. I can drive you back here in the morning."
I blinked. It was a logical suggestion. He lived close by, but I felt it imperative that I go home. I didn't want to even seem to screw up like I had that night I'd slept with Drew. If I stayed at his place, even just to sleep on the sofa, Geoff would find out about it and he wouldn't be happy.
"I have to go home." I pulled my hand away. "It won't hurt. I'll have my sister drive me back here for my car tomorrow." I couldn't be sure she'd feel up to it. She'd already arranged for classmates to copy their notes and hand in assignments that were due this week.
"I'll drive you home, then."
I sighed, feeling for a moment determined to resist, then I nodded. "Okay." I really didn't want to have to pay for a cab from here all the way to the other side of town where my home was. Well, not quite that far, but even to just where it was, just north of downtown, was too far for a cab to be worth it.
When Cindy returned, Drew requested my keys, adding the promise that I wouldn't see them until he could be certain I was home safe. She fetched them and handed them over, glancing at me. I just sat on the stool, slumped, too despondent to care.
"Thanks, Drew," she said.
Drew smiled a little. "No problem. I'll see you tomorrow."
He got off his stool and I shifted to slide off mine. My legs held for a moment, then decided they couldn't support me. Drew caught me. I looked around, trying to see Cindy. How much alcohol had she put in those drinks? I saw the glass with the dregs of my fifth drink in it and scowled, then tried to stand up on my own. This time I succeeded.
"Got your balance?" Drew asked.
I nodded. Oh, what a mistake. The tables and other patrons blurred and whirled. I swallowed as my stomach decided to try and return its contents. I hadn't had supper, but there was apparently some lunch left.
"I think so." I covered my eyes.
Drew kindly waited until I lowered my hands. I followed him, swaying a little. I knew I wasn't steady because my stomach kept on trying to return what remained of lunch. When we got outside, I stopped as the cold hit me, carried on a heavy wind. Clouds loomed overhead, making the parking lot darker and I tried pulling my coat tighter against my back as I hurried after Drew.
I managed to get into his car without too much trouble. Buckling in was a bit of a challenge, but I got that done before Drew was ready to latch himself into his seat. I sat back, closing my eyes as I rested my head on the headrest. Drew's car had a pine scent. That scent upset my stomach. When the car moved, my stomach sent up a mouthful of its current contents and I forced myself to swallow it as I opened my eyes. That helped.
I quickly learned that I could only face forward. If I tried to look out the passenger window or looked at Drew, the motion made my stomach complain. I blinked at the windshield. When we got into the city, the semi-rhythmic blink of brake lights hypnotized me a little whenever we had to stop at a red light. The steady glow had the same effect.
"What's your address?" Drew asked.
I swallowed before telling him. For a wonder, I managed to do so without vomiting. Drew found it without trouble and pulled into the parking lot in the back, found a spot, and got me out of his car.
He helped me get into the building and up to my apartment. I needed that help. My legs hadn't regained any of their strength, and I actually staggered and wove more than I had on the way out of The Henhouse. At my door, Drew took out my keys and unlocked the door for me; he pushed it open to reveal my sister stretched out on the sofa watching TV, cuddled under a blanket. She sat up.
"Si?" she asked.
"He's pretty drunk," Drew said.
I just looked at the floor. I'd never come home in this condition before. I'd actually made sure I never got into this condition before.
Sabriana got off the sofa and came over, dragging the blanket with her. "Come in. His room's at the end of the hall. I take it you're Drew?"
Drew nodded. "Yeah. The other man." He said this wryly and chuckled.
Sabriana chuckled a little as well. "I'm glad you brought him home."
Drew shuffled us into the condo. "Well, he insisted. I offered him my couch."
"Well, he's pretty caught up with Geoff," my sister said. "I'd help, but I have a cold and I don't want to make either of you sick. Anyway, he's worried about Geoffrey a lot, so I can understand his insistence."
Drew nodded. "Don't worry about it. He doesn't weigh two hundred pounds at least." I couldn't be sure if that was more wry humor or sarcasm, not in the state I was in.
They discussed me, my condition, and my problems with Geoffrey all the way to my bedroom. I just blinked and shuffled along with Drew, unable to complain about being talked about. A haze had enveloped my mind, and the movements kept my stomach roiled so I was concentrating on not dropping to my knees to vomit.
We entered my bedroom and Drew set me on my bed. He removed my sneakers. I succeeded in laying down without puking when he urged me to, and he lifted my legs to the bed, then pulled the other side of my comforter up to cover me. He didn't even turn on the bedroom light, and Sabriana hovered next to the doorway, watching.
After both were assured of my relative comfort, they departed, closing the door. I remained as I'd settled for a while, then grew uncomfortable and twisted around, pulling the comforter up so I could wiggle to the other side of my bed. There, I was where I belonged. My stomach eventually calmed and I closed my eyes.
When I woke up, I didn't recall falling asleep. My stomach felt okay when I moved a little, so I went to the bathroom, removed my coat, and got under the comforter again. I didn't feel like facing the day yet and just laid on my stomach, gazing at my alarm clock, watching the minutes pass. I was supposed to go up and hang out with Geoffrey, but I just couldn't make myself care enough to do so. Besides, I wasn't sure I could handle his new attitude while in this condition.
At nine thirty, a soft knock on my bedroom door woke me out of a light doze. I didn't respond. Whomever it was could just go away. But they didn't. I heard the latch click and the creak of the floor in front of the door as whomever had knocked entered.
It didn't sound hesitant. It was a request for my attention, spoken with Geoffrey's new confidence. I closed my eyes and pulled the comforter over my head.
"Sabriana said you have a hangover."
The door closed.
"I do," I lied. I didn't have a headache. My stomach wasn't upset. I didn't feel like shit. I didn't feel well rested, either, but I didn't feel like shit. That had to be a plus.
The other side of the bed sank down. Apparently, Geoffrey had invited himself to sit. The bed wobbled a bit as he shifted.
"Where'd you go?"
I considered lying then decided that I should tell the truth about this. "The Henhouse."
"Oh." He didn't sound hurt or uncertain. I sighed, pressing my face into my pillow. Geoffrey spoke again. "How many drinks did you have?"
It took me a moment to recall, and I faced my alarm clock again, pulling down the comforter. "About five in an hour and a half."
"Did you see Drew there?"
I nodded. "Yes. He's become a friend."
"A friend." Now Geoffrey sounded snide.
"Yes, like your ex girlfriend Annalisa is your friend." I allowed some of my irritation speak for me. Mostly irritation at continuing to hope that I could have anything really serious with Geoffrey.
The bed bobbed and his weight left it. I rode the shakes and waited until I heard the floor at the door creak again.
"That's it. Run. At least that hasn't changed about you."
"Shut the fuck up."
He slammed out of my room. I didn't even wince. Let him have his assumptions about what I'd done with Drew. Those didn't hurt as much as his new attitude did. It was just one more minor pain on top of the mountain, like a snow cap. Inconsequential.
About a minute later, my sister spoke from the doorway. "Why did Geoff just slam out of our condo?"
I licked my lips; they felt cracked against my tongue. "He thinks I slept with Drew again."
"Aren't you going to tell him the truth?"
I sighed. "I doubt he'd believe me."
"Well. I'll go up and tell him."
"Don't bother," I nearly shouted to prevent my sister's departure. I even raised my head a little in my vehemence.
I closed my eyes again and set my head down. "He's better off without me."
"Better off . . . What do you mean?"
"Maybe if I'm not in his life, he can be himself. He thinks that the way he is is the way I want him to be. I thought it was, once, and that's the worst part. I pushed him into being this way because I couldn't handle the real Geoffrey. He's better off without me."
"So you're just giving up."
I nodded. "Yeah. I shouldn't even have started."
She sighed. "I'll let you think about it."
"Don't bother. I'm not going to change my mind."
"We'll see," she said, voice grim, and shut the door.
I watched time pass for a while. I had tonight off, too. It was probably a good idea that I stay at home. It was less likely I'd make mistakes if I didn't go out.
I wasn't standing at Geoffrey's door because I'd changed my mind about giving up. I was here because it was my only option. Sabriana had greeted me with the news that she wasn't going to drag her sick ass downstairs to drive me to my car, and she then added that she'd talked with Tina, who wouldn't be willing to drive me either.
I knew it was a ploy to get me to change my mind, but I didn't really see the point. Still, I came up here because I knew there was no other way. I needed my car to get to work this afternoon. And Tina had been kind enough to call and see if Geoffrey would actually be available. I had no escape, so I knocked.
Then I sidled away, to stand to the left of the door like some child afraid of being caught doing something naughty. The door opened and Geoffrey stepped out. I looked at the floor. He wore blue panda bear pajama bottoms. The pandas had multicolored beach balls or sprawled face down on towels under umbrellas. My mind irreverently wondered where he'd found them.
"Why are you here?" He didn't sound angry.
I swallowed and glanced up at him. "I'm on probation. My sister isn't going to help me do anything until I rectify things with you."
He started to chuckle, then cut that off. "What's she expect you to do to rectify things this time?"
I sighed a little. "I need to pick up my car from the bar."
"Why not call Drew?"
I somehow resisted the flinch. "He's at work." Then I realized this wasn't going to work. I closed my eyes for a second. "Never mind. I'll just get a cab."
I walked around him, heading for the elevator.
I stopped and made sure both feet were on the floor. "Yeah?" I couldn't turn around.
I considered that request for a moment and discovered I hadn't given up as much hope as I'd thought I had. Oh, well. With a sigh, I turned around and went back to Geoffrey's door. He stepped back, opening the door wider.
"Come in." He sounded impatient.
I entered and stopped a few paces in.
"Is this why Tina asked if I was going to be home today?"
I shrugged. "I guess. Sabriana's the one who talked to her."
The door shut. I flinched a little. Geoffrey walked past me, heading to the hallway.
"What's your car doing at the bar anyway?"
I followed him a little. He entered the smaller bedroom and left the door open. I turned and put my back against the wall next to it.
"I drank too much to drive."
"Oh?" Geoffrey asked. "So you decided to go to Drew's?"
I flinched and gazed at the floor. I didn't know why it hurt to have him cling to that assumption. He wasn't the man I'd known before. Nothing else should have hurt at all.
"Never mind." I pushed away from the wall. "But thanks."
I headed for his door, knowing my behavior was making me look guilty. It didn't matter though. It was just as hard facing this Geoffrey over a misconception as it had been facing the real one over the truth. There wasn't any point in continuing to hope. He'd changed, and apparently for good, and nothing I could say about Wednesday would change his assumptions.
"You're running away."
I stopped with my hand on the knob. It was cut glass or crystal or something and felt cold in my palm. It looked antique, and two bolt locks were above it, both in the locked position.
"You're the one who faces things head on, Silas." It would have sounded better if he hadn't spoken so confidently.
"I can't face this." There was nothing to face.
"Why not? You're the one who went out and slept with another man."
I flinched, squeezing my eyes shut. "I didn't sleep with him. I made him drive me home."
"You expect me to believe that?"
"Not really. I know better."
I unlocked the bolts and threw open the door. This time, Geoffrey didn't call after me. Good. I took the stairs instead of the elevator so I wouldn't have to wait where he could catch me. The hinges to the stairway door squealed behind me, after I'd gotten down a couple switch backed flights.
"You're dating me," Geoffrey called.
I halted. "Was."
"What's that mean?"