Scrutiny: 4

by Miss Kitty E

Some people would tell you life is meant to be experienced as if it were accompanied by a symphony. Written at birth, the perfectly arranged notes are to be followed precisely or else the pattern is broken, and when one note falls flat you have to scramble to hit the next before the whole oeuvre is ruined. Others insist it's more like listening to a radio with some unknown power constantly changing the station, everyday, sometimes every hour, there's a new sound with which to "dance." For the longest time I wanted to believe that there was a symphony, something that I could take a step away from and tinker with whenever I had to, but these days it doesn't seem that easy. ...At least God's finally changed it from the angry chicks with guitars station to something a little more livable. Slowly, it's becoming easy to move through life with this ever changing music, I'm learning how to listen for it, and on which aspects to focus. I miss my symphony, but who's to say the dial won't ever stop again at classical?

Speaking of angry chicks with guitars, I have a meeting with Carolyn Wonderland. She's the newest talent under FreeLance's management, a gospel and blues singer out of Houston. She's talented, quite talented, but she's not meant for major stardom, operating best in bars and festivals, I think she'll end up being a minor, but influential name in music. She's content with that, and it doesn't mean I don't find excuses to pay attention to her. I like Carol, a lot.

There's a timid knock, she never uses the doorbell, something about the sound being too intrusive. I let her in, and she enters with her trademark slink. A natural redhead complete with typical freckles on her fair skin, she looks five years too young. She's petite, short and thin to the point of seeming delicate with an unflattering nose, and perfect mouth. What's more, she's almost painfully obvious. There's no doubt as to her intentions towards me.

"Morning Carol," I give her a kiss on the cheek that's half Hollywood, half sincere.

And she appreciates it, giggling. She acts as young as she looks, you'd never know she was a year older than me. I show her into the study, I'd like to sit with her on the couch, but I'm reluctant to make any kind of move on her just yet, though we have a dinner date coming up that may become /the/ moment.

Business talks are always easy between us, Carol is really quite meek, knowing what she wants but never asking for it, it's a challenge to ferret out whether she really believes in my advice. I'm only half way through my list of reasons why she should open for Lang when he comes to town, when the phone rings.

Distracted, I answer it, watching the blush from a recent compliment fade on Carol's cheeks. "Hello?"

"Um... hey." I know the voice, how could I not? Even so, I can't think of single thing to say to him. Taking this to be confusion, he clarifies, "It's Joey."

"I know." Brilliant, Lance, brilliant, now you just seem weird. I don't say anything more, and hold the phone a little farther from my mouth, so he can't hear my breathing, heavy with anxiety. He takes his own deep breaths, "Listen, we really need to talk." God, do we ever. I look up at Carol, and she takes it to mean that she should leave for a bit. I hadn't been aware of giving her any look, but I can't say she was mistaken. "I'm listening."

"I know." I don't think I could hear a pin drop, but thanks to the good people at Sprint I can hear him sigh, "Maybe this would be easier, you know, face to face? When this is over I want to be sure I can look you in the eye."

I swallow thickly, "Okay. Do you want me to come there?"

"No," he replies immediately. "I mean, I know you've got stuff going on. I'm probably interrupting something now, aren't I?"

Reflexively, I shake my head, and lie. "No, not really."

"You're lying," he tells me, and I'm a little disappointed he's able to see through me. "But... is the day after tomorrow all right for you?"

As if it matters. "If it's not, I'll make it, Joe."

"Okay," he says softly, then, with a little more conviction, "Okay. I'm gonna have to call you back about the details, but... this is really important." I don't think it was an afterthought when he adds, "To me."

Better than him acknowledging my damn existence again, better than the smile, this helps take the weight off my heart. "Me too, Joe."

We share a moment of almost friendly silence, before he takes another deep breath, as if all this has been tiring. "Okay, I'll talk to you real soon."

"Yeah." I take a moment to find the proper word to leave with. Forcibly casual, I settle on, "Later."


I don't hang up just yet, lost in thought, I'm startled when the dull hum of an empty phoneline suddenly starts up again. I hadn't realized I wasn't the only one lingering. I place the phone back on the cradle and sit back for a moment, not even thinking really, but taking in the silence to calm me. Blinking, I remember Carol. "You can come back in," I call.

She appears quickly, as if she'd been standing just outside the door. She sits down and shakes her leg, suddenly fidgety. "Sounded important," she remarks awkwardly.

Only then did it occur to me that my silence was making her uncomfortable. I give her a disarming smile and shrug, "Just a friend calling to let me know he's coming in on Wednesday."

"Oh," she seems bothered by this. Right now, my emotions are too raw to care. "I guess dinners off then?" she asks, trying to seem nonchalant.

Shit, smooth move, Lance. "Oh, Carol, I completely forgot." I speak slowly so I don't have to offer to call Joey back and tell him to- what? Not come? Postpone it until his confidence fails?

"No, it's alright." She smiles and shakes her head. To assure me she offers a weak joke, "I always cash rain checks."

I smile, but offer no further apology. Feeling vaguely guilty, I launch into part two of why opening for a big show could be so helpful her career, even if she doesn't exactly want to make it big.


You'd think I'd never had Joey over to my house before. You'd think he was a blind date or something, I mean, I'm cleaning. For Joey. Like it would have any discernible effect on the outcome of this discussion. What the hell though, if I sit down this nervous energy may turn destructive. The problem is the house isn't even that dirty. Oh well, now it's going to be spotless. I wish he had let me go and pick him up, driving really would have hit the spot, but I can understand that he'll need time to prepare. He's coming around one 'o' clock. It's twelve fourteen, right now. Shit.

I'm reduced to doing laundry for no apparent reason and worrying about what I should be doing when he gets here. Watching TV, reading, working, listening to music, eating, napping, sitting in a state of catlike readiness just waiting for the sounds of a cab driving up? What would best express the message, "I really, really want to make things right but it isn't that important because I really do have a life still?" Well, I don't know either, in the end I settle on flipping through the cable channels, rapid fire. What do you know? MTV's playing "Bye, Bye, Bye." This is suitably distracting, equal parts thrilling, embarrassing, and intriguing. The truth is, sometimes I barely recognize myself on TV. Styled, made-up, dressed in black, and filtered through the camera lens, the only thing that's remains familiar to me is my eyes.

A freaking beautiful close-up on Joe does something strange to me, it's like my heart and stomach suddenly decided to switch position. The TV goes off, and I try out that catlike readiness thing for a bit. Twelve thirty-eight. In the heavy silence it sounds as if the dryer buzzer is struggling to be heard. Blessedly, I'm given something to do with my hands and brain for four minutes. Sweet Jesus, twelve forty-two. Come on already! Time continues to torture me for another twenty-seven minutes until the doorbell finally rings so loud it makes me jump.

I pretend I was in another part of the house, waiting just a few seconds to answer the door. A deep breath, and I all but fling it open, "Hey Joe."

He smiles like he knows how much it hurts me when he does, and waits for me to step aside and let him in, which I do a moment or so later. "The flight over was okay?" I ask. What else do I say?

He looks around the living room, then at me. He shrugs, "Not too bad. Though for some reason we went to New Orleans first."

I laugh because I hate planes, and because I'm nervous. "Would you like something to drink?" I offer helplessly as I follow him. "You hungry?"

He considers it but shakes his head, "No, I'm alright."

Hm, that conversation dried up quickly, didn't it? I motion him to sit and he chooses a leather chair beside the couch, but the way he sits seems to say he'd rather be up and moving. I sit close enough to him to talk, but far enough that we can retreat into our own personal space when we have to. It suddenly occurs to me that I have no idea what I'm doing. I'm no good at serious discussions about my feelings, it's not a skill my family, nice as they are, helped me to develop. Even my girlfriends never wanted to talk, blaming me for the fact they found it easier to deal with the exterior rather than the interior they insisted they truly loved. Maybe instead of worrying about what he would say, I should have given thought to what I would say.

I take a good look at Joe, relieved that the hostile, Lance-proof aura that had surrounded him ever since it happened. Fiddling with the stitching on his inseam, he looks more lost and earnest than I've ever seen him before. Shit, I guess I should have taken notes on a few Oprah shows, because the silence is just getting awkward now.

I clear my throat, and decide to go easy on him, sometimes it's just easier to answer a question than it is to ask it. "So, what exactly did you come here to say?"

He presses his lips together briefly, then shrugs again, "I don't even know really. I just know we need to talk, work this out somehow."

That's all I've wanted to do, was make things better. Only, it's a little difficult when you don't even know what problem you're trying to solve. I take a shot in the dark, "Listen, Joey, I know you're straight-"

"Do you?" I fall silent at the look he gives me, judgmental but without malice.

I know what he means, damn if I didn't hear it a hundred times from the guys I know, 'oh, he's gay... he just doesn't know it yet.' One little kiss can change things, but even I wouldn't credit it for something like that. No, Joey, you got it all wrong. "I do," I affirm, defeated. "I didn't want to change you or anything, it's not like that... I just wasn't thinking at the time."

He nods, and I'm glad he could accept that so quickly, that he knows I'm not going lie to him now. Another quiet moment passes between us, the silence is easy enough to ask him something more.

"Joe," I didn't think it would take so much courage to say that one word, but I have to gather it up again to continue. "Why did you hate me for it?"

I feel a little vindicated by the remorse in his features, maybe even by the tiny hint of suffering that's there. He sighs softly, "I didn't hate you. I was just so fucking mad. When you did it, when you kissed me, it was alright, but when you admitted that you, you know, liked me or something it was like I couldn't deny things would change, because they already had. Everything was going so well now, and you can't blame me for getting defensive when you- when anyone -puts that in jeopardy."

I nod my comprehension, if not my understanding, as I bite my lip. I scoot forward, closer to him, my hands clasped between my knees, "It was just a mistake, why does that put anything in jeopardy?"

He gives me a sharp look, "Come on man, don't give me that, this is heavy stuff." He frowns, "Jesus, it's like no matter what I do, I look like a jerk. You're the one who's been hurt, you're the one who needs the sympathy. Me, I'm just the asshole who couldn't just laugh off the fact that my best friend tried to jump my bones." He seems to realize what he's said a second after, or maybe my face was showing more than I meant.

Softly, with eyes downcast, he tells me, "I didn't know what to do. I didn't want to hurt you, Lance, you gotta understand that. I don't want you to end up hating me, but I don't know how to do that. I've had friends-" he shakes his head, and corrects himself, "Girlfriends-" he shakes his head again. "Friends who were girls who said they liked me and when I didn't in return, they said it was alright, we'd still be friends. I look up a month later and they're nowhere to be found. Everything was out of my hands and in yours, and it just made me mad." He pauses, as if he'd suddenly remember what he meant to say, "I am sorry about what I did, all of it, though."

It's more than I ever expected to hear him say. "I'm sorry, too, for putting you in this position."

He seems as grateful as I am for the apology. "I didn't mean to make you feel bad, I just needed time to think, to... put it in the right perspective. I wanna be friends again, but I don't know what that means, do we pretend like it never happened, or does it... just become a part of our friendship?"

How the hell should I know? Still, I can't deny him anything, and though I can't give him a solution, I can offer my compliance. "What do you need me to say to get you to trust me again."

"I do trust you," he says quickly, but I shake my head.

"This is heavy stuff remember? There's no getting around it, you can't help but act a little... differently now."

He seems confused, but thankfully he gets it before I have to explain myself further. "Oh, you mean, like, cutting out all the touchy-feely stuff?"

"If that's you wanna call it, yeah. I don't think I can fit the role of little bro to you anymore." That was more painful to admit than I might have thought.

He scratches the back of his neck, and seems to find something fascinating about the coffee table, "I wasn't doing that because I thought of you as a brother." What the hell? He stutters out quickly, "I mean, I- it's was just to, you know... freak you out."

I frown, "Freak me out?" This was a joke?

He reaches across the space between us to poke my chest. A second later I realize it was to touch my cross... the big silver one I never take off. Oh riiight, I'm God-boy. How could I have forgotten? I sigh, shaking my head, "You don't ever have to give up God to love someone, Joey."

He nods, and seems uncomfortable again, "I just didn't know you'd see it that way."

Of all the things to be wrong about... "It's okay, Joe. I'm not blaming you or anything. It's not even that big of a deal. I don't want you to think you have to treat me differently, but if you feel you need to..."

He shrugs helplessly, "It's hard to say right now."

"I know."

He suddenly sits back, tired of this again. "God, this is harder than I thought."

That's the understatement of the year, Joe. Rebuilding a friendship I never meant to destroy, saying things I never meant to let you know, of course it's hard. The tone of defeat bothers me though, after all, this is progress, isn't it? Trying to put a positive spin on things, I say, "But if we're both willing to work on it, why shouldn't things come out okay?"

He seems to agree, but says nothing in support. Instead he's treating his hands rather cruelly, nails scratching into and marking the skin under the guise of soothing an itch. "Joe," he looks up at me, and I force myself to keep my eyes on him. "Well?" I ask. "Can you look me in the eye yet?"

I think he'd been staring at my right shoulder all this time, or maybe it was my neck, I'm not sure, but I see his eyes shift a little, and then feel my stomach dip at the sudden, soul-deep contact. Human nature makes us break it soon after, but it's enough. "Yeah," he says softly. "I don't know if everything's all better, but you're my friend again."

Why does it sound like he's settling?

Part Five - Fic Index - Main