Date: 1st August 2017
Location: Gordon's Gas'n Grocery, NE Pennsylvania
Everything was hot. It was the kind of heat she'd expected to live in on the road: latent, awful soup heat. It was the kind of soup that condensed in her skull and poured out of her ears. It rolled down her sides, moist and steamy and stinking of pot and wild yeists and mud but she could retreat into her van and watch the world run past her on the road. The sensation wasn't overbearing because reprieve was just a key turn away. The drama of moisture and warmth coming from the world and not just other people could be left to other people.
But her van's air conditioning had died in the night, and now she had to stop in the middle of nowhere because, in all likelyhood, her van's front axle had cracked again. Even if Mani were here he'd not patch the axle a second time. No sane mechanic would. She would have to replace it. This, the air conditioning, and the waning transmission. And maybe the driver.
"James says we have to start moving again soon."
Paulie didn't move, her face still pressed into her folded arms. She was laying out on the browning grass in the empty lot beside parking for Gordon's station, face down. There had been good rains all over the northeast this year, but Gordon's was in an almost fifty mile patch experiencing this weird micro-drought. The surrounding woodlands and pastures seemed one accidental spark short of a brushfire. And here was Rozzle walking up with her tenth cigarette of the afternoon. Paulie winced into her arms, shaking her head and mumbling unintelligibly.
"Oh come on, cheer up! You can pack up your shit in like, ten minutes. We squeeze into Nancy's bus and hit the city limits a little after sundown." Chipper as a sunbeam in a winter storm. Paulie felt a weight against her lower back as Rozzle flopped onto the ground and rested her head. "James can tow your van to his parents' place in Rhode Island. You head west for a trimming season, save up, fix everything by the end of next spring."
A part of Paulie wanted to reach back and shove Roz away. But it wasn't as though Roz could actually make Paulie feel any warmer than she already did. Besides, a much larger part of Paulie still wasn't sure she could function without knowing Rozzle was near by. She needed Roz when she saw Simon tonight; someone to ease the tension. Paulie lifted her head to prop her chin on her arms, staring out at the empty highway. From her vantage point she could see Nancy's converted school bus and James' truck side by side in the parking lot, over a dozen people crowding around and busying themselves while everyone waited for Mister Gordon to tell them what they already knew. Paulie's van was fucked.
"Rozzle... Nancy hates
me." Paulie said, watching a pair of Nancy's weird cult people wrestle with one another. Wirey young men tumbling in the tall, browning grass. She and Rozzle had shared an evening with one of them. His movements now reminded her of his movements then. Rozzle followed her gaze, not really seeing what Paulie was seeing. Rozzle was like that, present for everything.
"Yeah, but she looooves me." Roz cooed. Pauling felt Roz rolling onto her side to look at the back of her head. She ran a hand through Paulie's mess of corn husk hair and started scritching gently at her scalp. "It's like, three hours to New York from here. Preeeetty sure she owes me that much for keeping her so comfy during tear-down." Paulie moaned something between mirth and disgust, closing her eye and delighting in Roz's touch.
They rested like that for a minute or two, Roz sitting up after a while to scratch with both hands at Paulie's back, digging nails deep. Then Paulie opened her eyes as Herb Gordon's voice rang out from his little garage.
"Yup! Your van is fucked!
I dunno how ya'll got it here with this axle in one piece!" For being open fifteen years somehow Herb still had his accent, a southern drawl so twangy it reminded Paulie of her cousins on Sand Mountain.
It was still
putting her back up, so obvious that Roz squeezed her shoulders comfortingly before rising from the ground. Paulie pushed herself up to her knees, looking through her mop of blonde hair over at James whom, like the rest of the convoy, was looking over at her. He was the calm center of a small little crowd of mournful faces sharing a sudden and pointed silence.
Then Nancy came out of the store with her daughter in her arms. Nancy was the big, billowy, bosomy whirlwind leading this mad tornado of people back to their homes. Her daughter was wailing, an appropriately timed funeral dirge for Paulie's van. She didn't want to go west again this year. She wanted to stay in one place for more than a month for once. She didn't want her van.
Maybe it was the sheer discomfort of the situation, or maybe she just needed to mourn for a little bit. Paulie wasn't going to fix her van, and sitting there in the dead grass and dirt, with Rozzle offering her a hand, she started to cry.
Date: 1st August 2017
Location: Simon's Penthouse Suite, Queens NY, USA
Paulie and Rozzle sat against the wall across from Simon's door, leaning against one another, Rozzle's phone murmuring with today's stories from All Things Considered.
Paulie was barely listening to the story, just concentrating on the smell of Rozzle's pungent odor and her weight. Rozzle leaned up for another kiss; anything to keep Paulie present. Paulie couldn't remember the last time she'd gone more than a few minutes in a city without Blanking. This had been the most uncomfortable night of her life, having to pay for food and talk to everyone she needed something from. It had to be worth it to keep Rozzle here. It was the strongest connection to her normal
life she'd had. Rozzle had been around since Paulie's first burn. She meant everything.
"...Virginia today." Paulie snapped out of it, jerking her lips away from Rozzle and staring blankly at nothing, listening to the radio stream. Rozzle moaned and tried to pull Paulie back in but Paulie reflexively butted her head at Rozzle's chin gently. The girl laughed, leaning back against the wall with a resigned grin as they listened.
"Confirmed reports state that only five people died from the crash, but many more are still presently in critical condition at several local hospitals. Among the dead are three civilians, one of the documentary employees on site that day and former congressman and Secretary of Defense John Sinclair. A viral video of the accident has already made its way through social media, with several outlets hosting the video file after multiple youtube uploads were taken down for--"
The elevator down the hall made its ding'n shuffle, drawing Paulie and Rozzle's eyes. Simon strolled out into the corridor, with two friends of his Paulie had met beforehand and one she hadn't. They all teetered behind Simon in various states of intoxication as she stood up, helping Rozzle to her feet. Simon just looked at them, his crew noisily making their way into the apartment. He closed the door behind they and Rozzle, who threw herself into the mix like the relentless lapdog she was. Simon just stared down at her for a few moments, Paulie staring back, each of them defiant.
"Look, I can explain,' they said in unison. Paulie guffawed and fell back against the wall laughing, and Simon looked away in that sheepish way he did when he felt guilty about something, ginger curls hiding most of his face.It's going to be a good night.
Paulie thought, grinning. She leaned down to pick up a couple of luggage bags, Simon following to help her as they began to tell each other the stories about their day. Paulie's van. Simon's latest production gig. Rozzle's hands. One small story after another, each wrapping the sharp stone that floated between them... burying it as the night carried on into early morning.Maybe
things would work out.
Date: 2st August 2017
Location: Simon's Penthouse Suite, Queens NY, USA
"Maybe things don't need to work out." Rozzle said, thick clouds of smoke churning from her mouth as the first morning's toke left her. She was about to say more but found herself with a coughing fit and leaned across the small patio table to hand Paulie the joint. Paulie took it up and had her second toke, closing her eyes to just bask in the sensation as she leaned back in her chair, face to the smoggy, glowing heavens above. Seconds holding the breath, then she exhaled slow through her nostrils.
Both of them were wearing matching grey-blue sheets, tired-eyed and slow to move. Paulie's expression was a softening sullen, her nose full of the stink of good herb and the bagels she'd walked out for earlier in the morning. Rozzle just looked hateful. She hadn't liked Simon. She hadn't liked any of Simon's friends. It kept reminding Paulie that she didn't really like Simon or his friends either. It hurt, not liking Simon. But she wasn't going west. It stopped being about liking anybody when she knew that.
need to work out," Paulie yawned, sitting back up in a dejected slouch. "I just need Simon to get my foot in the door. This gig could mean connections with a lot of influential people. Apparently there's some hubub tonight. Simon wants me to meet someone and if I do a little dance that someone will get me where I need to go with whom I need to be. But it's gonna be a minute." Her expression turned to a wan smile, "adjusting to normal people time is gonna be a minute too."
Paulie leaned forward to pass her joint back to Roz, and then finally had her first bite of bagel. Roz had made up a cream cheese, bacon and sriracha spread. "To forestall munchies," she had explained. That
was probably going to work out. Paulie chortled with delight as Rozzle flashed a devious smile mid-toke, watching Paulie's expression enliven as she chewed. The two of them dissolved into a fit of giggles.
The morning passed like this for a couple of hours as they grazed on bagels and coffee and baby carrots and talked about their plans. They talked about where they'd meet up next, who was picking up Rozzle today, whether she would still be in town (she was heading up-state), and how likely it was that Paulie would get the job... all of this while Simon and his friends busied themselves sobering up or making their own breakfast or joining Roz and Paulie on the patio to swipe a bagel and make a pass at one or both of them. Where Rozzle had been languid and coy the night before, she was sharp as a knife and attentive as a badger this morning. It was comforting to watch her take charge like that, and Paulie just let Rozzle take over until they left.
Eventually it was just the three of them, with Simon nervously smoking and leaning over the balcony as if waiting for something.
"Didn't you say it'd be like, another two hours before Luka gets here?" Paulie asked, absent-mindedly scrolling down a news article on her phone. Rozzle had decided to change out on the patio, rolling on a blue tank top and donning a green-plaid button down shirt... left unbottoned.
"Yeah, but..." Simon sighed, exasperated with himself as he turned to look back at the two of them, "Luka freaks me out, you know? Like if True Blood did an L Word crossover episode or something."
"What, so he's a hot androgynous vampire?" Paulie quipped.
"Does he sparkle?" Rozzle asked, looking up from her bluejeans, only halfway up her legs. Rozzle knew the situation, took Paulie at her word that she could do magic. But she still had no idea what that really meant. So her question was serious--serious enough that Paulie didn't even laugh, waiting expectantly for Simon to answer.
"No, he doesn't fucking sparkle," Simon scoffed, "he just... he's exactly
an androgynous vampire. Like a Vlad from League of Legends kinda deal, but very Russian. Freaks me right out." Simon's expression was turning pale just thinking about Luka. It wasn't the first time Paulie had seen it. Simon was very uncomfortable either thinking about or being around men he considered effeminate. It was cute in a sad sort of way. But it was embarrassing now, with Rozzle there.
"Vlad's the guy who shoots blood at people and stuff, yeah?" Rozzle pulled her pants up, buttoning and zipping before looking up at Simon again.
is what I'm talking about." Simon said, then took another drag from his cigarette. He also grabbed another fistful of baby carrots too, popping one into his mouth. That was something Paulie and Simon had bonded over back when they'd first met. Now it was just another resentment. Just a little bit of sourness and Paulie was already hating him for liking any of the things they liked. What the hell was her problem?
"You couldn't pick a more fitting spokesperson for The Bad Guys
if you actually just called him Vlad and straight up gave him a Vampire House from World of Darkness." Rozzle said, stretching now that she was fully dressed and yawning silently.
"I mean, he's a nice guy... just really looks the part. Like, a lot." Simon had another bite of carrot then.
--August 2nd 2017, 11:40AM
Rozzle left shortly after, goodbye kisses for everyone, and then she was heading down the elevator. Simon and Paulie still had some time to shoot the shit and so they did, playing a couple games of League while they waited for the new arrival. They were spread out around the living room, Paulie hunched over a coffee table and facing the door Luka would be coming through, her laptop and mouse in front of her. She was already blanked
, just waiting for Luka to show so she could begin her audition.