Starting to feel a minuscule bit better about all this. The onslaught of chilly rain today is keeping me parked at my desk (no walk for fresh air around Capitol Square, so sneaking off to the cafe across the street for lattes or fruit&nut bars), so more time to write and, more importantly, figure out where this damn thing is going. Possibly, I’m cheating. In an attempt to get this thing moving and settle on a general “This novel is about…” mission statement, I’ve moved even closer to home as far as the main character’s personal experience. It’s becoming this bizarre just-off-the-truth conglomeration of bits and pieces of my life. Put together, however, in a way that is still fiction for sure. At least I feel hopeful that there is now a plot and the possibility of completion by the month’s end.
Now. Where were we?
I pushed my way out of the front rows, ignoring the offended glares of two, formidable Smurfettes and various others to get beyond the boundaries of the crowd. Strangely enough (or serendipitously, I thought) I ended up at the end of a short line for the wine tent. Apparently everyone favored beer that night. We’d been out for a while at this point, and I’d made a point to stop drinking a good half hour before this. But here was salvation, and, deciding it was meant to be, I unzipped my boot until I could see the bright orange of my drink tickets. Well – mine and Tasha’s and Brian’s. But I couldn’t imagine them minding too much if I dipped into their stash. My heart was freshly broken. They would understand.
When it was my turn to order, I talked the guy into letting me buy two plastic cups of red wine at once. Proud of my persuasive abilities, I was nonetheless without a plan beyond obtaining large amounts of alcohol and consuming it too rapidly. This, I should mention, was not my standard M.O., but rather a solution I’d seen in too many movies or books and suddenly, tonight, I felt the situation clearly called for such drastic measures. I took a swig of the tart, chalky liquid and headed back to Masquerade’s epicenter.
With nowhere in particular to go, I wandered through the crowd, people-watching and hiding under my newfound wavy, raven locks, confident that even if I were to run face-first into Etsio, he would never recognize me. I dumped the first plastic cup after quickly draining it.
“Whoa, Captain! Pound it!” I don’t remember what this guy was supposed to be dressed as. My guess is even if I’d been sober he would’ve been unidentifiable. He thought he was hysterical and swatted at my skirt, far too close to my ass, and that pissed me off. I do remember that. I may have thrown the remains of my wine in his face. I’m pretty sure I did. At any rate, he took advantage of the crowded confusion to give me a hard shove as I turned to walk away. This was more than enough to knock my drunk self down to the asphalt. I landed hard on my knee and palms. “Fucking bitch,” I heard from behind me, but by the time the shock of impact wore off and I gathered myself and turned around, he was gone.
I don’t know about you, but when I’m sober and fall (like, say, on an icy sidewalk in the winter), I try my damndest to be up and walking like nothing ever happened, and hope nobody was watching. Inebriated, however, I made it up to my knees and decided that, at least for a moment, that was as far as I wanted to go. Mind you, I don’t recall my line of thinking at this point. The final thing I do recall is this: the Tin Man helped me up.
He asked if I was okay. I told him I was fine, shook him off my arm and staggered off.
What terrifies me now is that your guess about the remainder of the evening is as good as mine. It could’ve been minutes or hours still before I decided that little alcove by the furniture store was a brilliant place to sleep it off.
“Jesus, Julie, where were the cops? Shouldn’t someone have detained you? You know, put you in the drunk tank for a while?” This is Tasha, concerned in her own special way. “At least youd’ve been protected.”
“Thanks, Tash, that’s nice,” I laugh, popping one last bite of brownie into my mouth.
“Seriously, though, I can’t believe that asshole pushed you. You know if I’d been there I would’ve taken him out, right?” she says, for the seventh or eighth time.
“If you’d been there we would’ve gotten in so much more trouble,” I say, struggling up from my spot on the couch. It’s oversized with ridiculous cushions that will swallow you whole if you sit for too long. Kip is at the sink now, scrubbing chocolate remains from a baking pan. “You know you can leave that for the morning?”
“No, you can leave it for the morning. I will lay awake all night knowing there’s unfinished business in my kitchen,” he says. Kip is a few years older than me, about to turn thirty. He’s like having a combination big brother/mom in the house. His thoroughly masculine voice belies his soft compassion. When Etsio moved out, the house grew three sizes too big. I’d lived alone for four years before he came along, but suddenly I was sleeping with the lights on. It was at the dinner after Andre’s funeral that Kip decided to abandon their home and come share mine. Unorthodox? Maybe. But it’s perfect. I feel safe again.
Tasha jumps up in the other room, talking to herself about how late it is and something about getting to work early. She teaches English classes at the community college, her first one starting at eleven in the morning. And she wonders why I have a hard time taking her complaints about “early mornings” seriously. I give Kip a sort of side-squeeze, and say goodnight.
Tasha’s gathered up her bag and coat and I walk her to the door. “Is it weird that I’m kind of proud of you?” she asks.
“Proud?” I have no idea what she’s talking about. In the past 24 hours I’ve been irresponsible, pathetic, rude and asleep. I can’t fathom what there is to be proud of.
“Ok, maybe proud’s the wrong word. But you did something completely reckless last night.” She sees I’m not following. “You, the girl who plans every minute of the day…”
“I do not,” I protest.
“Shut up, you do,” she says, kindly enough. Anyway, she’s right. “You think you know exactly where you’re going and every step of the way is already calculated in your head, and I can tell you right now that nothing will happen like you think it’s going to.” This has become a big sis talk. Tash, who is also older-but-not-that-much-older, likes to believe she has become wise through experience, meaning she has done so many stupid things in her life that surely she can tell wisdom from stupidity. There may be some truth to this. “You’re working so hard on all these different things that you think will eventually pay off and make you happy, but what if you could be happy right now?” She pauses, I assume for dramatic effect. She reads too much. “I’m just saying you might want to ditch your road map, Jules.”
“I don’t even know what that means,” I say giving her small frame a hug, my chin resting on her shoulder for a moment next to her fantastic ginger curls.
I watch her click down the sidewalk to her car. I watch her drive off. Then I stand there behind the storm door until the cold starts seeping through. Damn it, she’s right.
I’ve known it, like suppressed-in-the-pit-of-my-stomach known it, for a long time. I’m 27 years old and still waiting table for a living. Granted, I serve in a fine-dining establishment, which lets me make a fine income working only four days a week. Mondays I pick up some extra cash working at an Austrian pastry counter in an indoor market. I worked this job one summer on a break from college and got along so swimmingly with the little Iranian man who owned it that I’ve never been able to quit it completely. He pays me well, and I bring home leftovers, so there is never a shortage of petit fours and marzipan peaches in our house. What’s not to love? The rest of my time I devote to my band. Yes – I’m 27 years old and still trying to break into the music industry.
This had been my way of life for a couple of years now. Etsio had hated it. He wanted to be able to go out in the evenings, especially on weekends. He loved to tell his friends I was a rockstar, but hated to mention to anyone (his parents, who still lived in Rome and I never met in person, included) that my true living was made in a restaurant.