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Volume 2, Number 7 -- July, 1997

Blood Poisoning - Part II

by Greg Tennant

- 4 -

The next day is Saturday. As the time to get on the barhopping bus approaches, Will exercises at the weight bench in his apartment more frantically than usual. There seems to be something on his mind.
Finally he comes to a stop. Covers his face with his hands. He talks to himself. "Hey. Hey!"
And he answers. "What?"
Takes his hands away. "I am."
"All right!" He sits up. Stands, paces, shakes off the exercising.
"All right. I'm listening."
"No, you have to pay attention," he says to himself.
"I am, I am," he answers.
"Okay. What's wrong."
"I don't want to go."
"I know that. Why don't you want to go."
"I don't feel like talking about it."
"Come on, it helps to talk about it."
"I don't want to do this dumb bar trip."
"I don't like these people."
"Yeah you do, they're nice."
"I can't stand them, they're shallow. They drink for fun, for God's sake. I'm gonna have to talk about college football, or the -- or the fucking supervisor or something, or rents. God, who cares?"
"Well what do you want to talk about?"
"Something people actually care about."
"Why don't you just bring something up?"
"Because, because, it wouldn't work, you know it wouldn't work, something's wrong with that."
A long pause. He sits with his face in his hands, rubbing his eyes. His breathing is quick and shallow. "Give 'em a chance, you barely know them."
"What if they don't like me?"
"Well what if they don't? What's the worst that could happen?"
He looks up. And away. "Very funny, you know what could happen." He kicks a shoelace away from his feet. "We both do."
"But I'm afraid you can't avoid that."
His eyes begin to glaze over, eyelids looking sort of dull. He gets up, now in his forget-about-the-world-get-to-work daze.

- 5 -

A bus shaped like a cable car rumbles through the city streets, loaded with cheering partiers. Balloons trail the thing, filling up the inside, and cars honk at the revelers as they pass.
Laurie Clark brings a tray of green jello shots loaded with mercury down the center aisle. Will and Matty each take one, click them together in a toast, and slurp them down.
Jason and Cassia, wearing silly party hats, lean over the railing in back, trying to pass cans of beer to reaching hands from a car driving alongside.
The bus driver sees them in his rear view mirror, speaks into a microphone. "Please don't feed the animals, they haven't paid the tour price. Plus we could get cited."
Large coolers brimming with ice and alcohol perch between the seats in the back and underfoot inside the cab. Everyone's got a drink, including Matty's boyfriend Raleigh, who's looking like he doesn't quite fit in yet. The rest of the crowd is made up of friends of Laurie and her husband Ray.
The driver speaks again as he pulls the bus to the curb. "First stop, Bullrush Brewery. Meet back here at... " checking his watch, "ten fifteen."
All rise and spill off the bus, noisily, heading for the pub.
Inside, the place is crowded. Two levels serve a plethora of beer drinkers, all with pint glasses of dark and amber hops. Tin signs adorn the walls, and a shuffleboard table attracts a circle of onlookers.
Cassia and Will sit at the bar, pressed in on both sides, sipping from glasses of red ale.
"Too bad Jughead's missing out," goes Will. "Weekend shift?"
"What does he do?"
"He's a grocery bagger."
"Really. There a future in that?"
"No. He's working in his dad's architecture firm during the day."
"Don't they pay him?"
"Not yet. He's still an apprentice. His dad wants him to get some experience and training first, and then go out and find a job on his own somewhere. Then he can come back later if he wants."
"Sounds practical, I guess."
"Is this is your first job since grad school?"
"Yeah. I worked for a while before that, though."
"What'd you do?"
"I lived on government grants. I studied oceanography, and I could scuba dive, so I did research projects for grad students and the navy and stuff like that."
She's interested, sure, but there's more going on. They really want to know each other's love lives, especially as currently arranged. But you can't go directly to that, now, can you.
Jason interrupts them. "Hey, time to go. Gotta move!"
Off they get.
The bus careens through town, passing glittering sites. On board, more vodka is consumed, more jello shots, more cans of beer. Jollity abounds.
Cassia on an outside bench and Will standing next to her hanging onto a rail, noise happening behind them, "So what about this Jughead guy, anyway?" asks Will, having fun.
"What about him?"
"Good guy? Takes care of you?"
She shrugs. "He does all right, I guess."
"You 'guess'?" in a mock interrogation tone.
"Well, we've been fighting lately."
"Just since yesterday?" with a touch of surprise.
"Since before yesterday. In fact I think we may be broken up at the moment."
This is an unexpected turn. "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that," Will says, meaning it sincerely.
She shrugs.
"How long were you together?"
"About six months." She doesn't seem to want to talk about it. "It's a boring story, though. What about you? Have you got a 'ball and chain'?"
"I'm a free man at the moment."
"Is that why you moved here?"
What an adept observation. "Because of a breakup, you mean? Not really. The last girlfriend I had was before grad school, and I didn't date much while I was there because I was just busy all the time. So I haven't really been involved for over a year."
Jason overhears this last line. "He's been self-involved," he cracks, miming masturbation.
"Yeah, I get drunk and take advantage of myself," Will goes. "But then I feel guilty in the morning."
"You should leave yourself, before you get hurt."
"Jason, there's still several gallons of booze left."
"I'm trying, man, I'm trying!"
Laff laff.
In the next place, a Caribbean restaurant. A crashed airplane hull is prominent in the room, a two-story lava waterfall draped with jungle vines also making an appearance.
Jason, Cassia and Will stand in a circle with brightly colored drinks, pontificating and conferring about stuff. Laurie dances it up in her husband's arms. Ray is sweating, panting.
Look at everybody move and talk, so animated and clever. Everyone is young and alive. They're having the time of their young animated clever lives. Can anybody can stand just how much all-out unfettered fun is being had right here in this beer hall. You'd think the cops would come.
Up in the wrecked airplane hull, later. Soft comfy couch-like chairs, with plane windows looking out on the dance floor and the waterfall. Will and Cassia sit across from each other, both having their feet up on the opposite seat, toes wiggling in socks. So they're like beside each other across from each other, get it?
"How many states have you been to?" he asks her.
"Let's see. California, Nevada," counting on her fingers, "Colorado, Montana --"
"Montana! Western?"
"Beautiful state."
"It's gorgeous."
"Ever been to Texas?"
"Never been to Texas."
"Did you know Texas is bigger than France?"
"No, I didn't know that."
He nods. "What about the east? New York?"
"When I was real young. We used to live there. Vermont, probably Massachusetts. Minnesota. Florida."
"Relatives in Minnesota, Disney World in Florida."
He smiles.
"What about you?" she asks.
"All of them but Massachusetts."
"Every single state?"
"Except Mass."
"How did you go to all those little states without going through Mass?"
"Strange, isn't it. I took a screwy route. Don't know why."
A waitress comes. "Can I get you guys something else?"
"No, I'm fine," says Cassia. Will indiates no also. "I think I've had my limit," Cassia sez to Will.
He smiles at her. "There's still time, you know. The coolers on the bus don't have a bottom, I noticed. They stay full."
"I'll never make it home tonight."
"You're holding up all right."
"Oh, god, I still have to drive home from the meeting spot."
Time to come up with an idea, Will. Don't miss your chance, but don't be too obvious about it, either. She could actually be giving you this opportunity. Just be cool about it. Make it look like it's all your idea, and it's as casual as can be. But not too casual, or you could still end up being obvious.
Oh just say it. "Maybe we should get a taxi."
"That's all right, I'll be fine."
Now don't stop there, Will. It's just a line. Keep playing.
"I don't know if you should drive, though. I'll get a taxi, I'll see you make it home."
"Well, okay," she says, quietly, trying also to be cool about it, playing it like it wasn't all a setup from the start. We're all in this charade together, aren't we, Will? That's what bugs you, isn't it. You hate having to deal with all these people. Well, that's your own private hell, isn't it, Mr. Will Geist.
So Will yells something into Jason's ear in the midst of the din, and Jason nods his head. Pats Will on the shoulder, even. No problem, bud. See y'Monday. Right. Great.
Cassia tells Matty Gonzalez. Raleigh is by Matty's side, smashed out of his gourd, giant smile plastered across his face. His cheeks and nose glow a bright red and the little paper umbrella teeters on the edge of his daquiri glass. Glad you could make it, Raleigh. You won't soon forget this night. Or maybe you already have.
So they both "Happy Birthday" Laurie and Ray, and take their leave, probably kissing them and shaking their hands and crap, thanking them for the wonderful party they've thrown. Gotta do it again next year, you know I'll be there. Love ya. Ciao.
They go out to the curb to wait. Chilly night air greets them.
"Brr," says Cassia, snuggling up to Will, whose hands are buried in his pockets against the freeze. "It's cold out here!"
"Yer tellin me," sez Will.
The fact of her snuggling up to him means her hair is right under his nose, and he breathes in her steaming warm aroma. He suffers another moment of poison, pure poison. His eyes close, and her warmth goes right to his head. Involuntarily he emits a sound, an "Mmm," almost just a spoken exhalation.
She looks up at him, questioningly. Did he say something?
"Whoo!" he says, shuddering at the cold. No, that wasn't an "Mmm" caused by you, it's just cold out here, that's it. The cold.
She shivers and holds on to him. Just the cold.
Taxi arrives.
So, it's a long ride. He's going to pay a bundle.
Will, she's sleeping against your shoulder. Yeah, I know that, thinks Will. So what? She's one of those warm types, just like the kids in drama club. They're always starved for human contact. She's one of those.
Suits you just fine, right Will?
Suits me just fine. I was right about her.
Yes you were.
Taxi pulls to a stop.
"We're here," says Will, jostling Cassia awake. She looks at him blearily, looks out at her house. It's all coming back to her now. He smiles at her confusion, and she gets out.
He follows her to the door. She's got her bearings back and seems to be quite clear. They pause on the step.
"Thanks for the ride," she begins.
"No charge," he returns. "Did you have a good time?"
"Yeah," she says, smiling. "Thanks."
"Don't thank me. Thank Laurie."
They look into each other's eyes.
He strokes her cheek with the back of his hand, leans forward and kisses her lightly once on the lips.
Her heart is beating faster.
She waits for him to kiss her again. No... She prevents him from backing away. Holds his shirt front. Leaning into him, she kisses him. A lovely kiss, long.
They linger close to each other.
"There's no one home," she whispers.
"Nobody but us," he says quietly back.
A breath. They are close.
"Would you like to come inside?" she asks.
She waits with baited breath for his reply. He suspends his answer for an eternal moment. They are perfectly in tune right this second.
"No," he whispers ever so quietly.
She was afraid he might say that. She does have a boyfriend, after all.
"I don't want to do something we might regret later," he explains.
"I won't regret it," says Cassia.
"Sure that's not the booze talking?"
"No, it's me talking."
She presents a very appealing offer. But he does have other things on his mind.
"I'd rather not risk ending things before they've really begun," he continues.
"Are things beginning?"
"Are they?"
"I don't know."
"I hope so," he says.
"I hope so too."
You know, the thing is, he still can't actually tell if she means that. Would she really be this willing and this interested, this early? Wouldn't she just want to hang back? And he'd get irked by it?
She won't look into his eyes any more now. He states clearly, as genuinely as he can, "I had a wonderful time. You're a lovely and engaging woman. I hope I can see you again."
"You'll see me at work."
"Apart from that."
She looks up at him again. "Well, bye," she says, and turns to the door.
"Good night," he says. He smiles at her as he backs away down the walk, but he can tell her heart is not in it any more. He must have offended her somehow. Or disappointed her.
Back in the cab, he rests a moment. "You know of a convenience store around here?" he asks the driver.
"Yeah, I think I could find one."
"Do it."
To be continued...
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