The houses in rossford, part one of chapter two
“Well, I don’t see what the problem is with me.”
“I didn’t say there was a problem—”
“Tom,” Chris interrupted Fenn. “Fenn says there’s a problem with me. He says he doesn’t like my acting style.”
They were sitting on the old stage of the Lighthouse Theatre, doing a read through of Twelve Angry Men, and Fenn Houghton really needed a cigarette break.
Tom Mesda smiled and playing with his pencil said, “I’m sure that’s not what Fenn said. Our Fenn comes on a little strong sometime.”
“You know what, Tom?” Chris went on, the back of his head turned to Fenn, “Since I’ve come here Fenn has had problems with me and really now, I think I just ought to take the whole situation to you.”
“Firstly,” Fenn began, that change coming in his voice that made Tom’s eyebrows rise, “you don’t turn the back of your head to me when I’m in the room. Secondly, and you should know this, you don’t get to appeal to Tom. He might direct. He might produce. Hell, he might hire, but I own. Which means,” he continued, as Chris Campbell turned to him slowly, like someone picking up very late on rage, “I can critique you all I want to. If I want to, which I really haven’t Chris. All right?”
It was all in such a gentle, steady, unrelenting voice. It took a moment before Chris could nod his head. He didn’t feel capable of speaking.
“And besides,” Fenn added, picking up the playbook, “I didn’t criticize your acting style. Because you don’t really have one.”
“Oh, God—” Tom began, and then Chris, who was a full head taller than Fenn with white blond hair stood up and stomped his foot.
“That’s enough! I’m not going to have my power snatched away. I don’t have to take this.”
“Did he just say,” Fenn turned to Tara, who was sitting beside him, “that he was taking back his power?”
“I am taking back my power!” Chris shouted.
“Well, you go, girl.”
“Fenn—” Tom said in a low voice.
“I worked very hard for this role,” Chris continued. “And there are going to be great things from me. A lot of great things. This is a stepping stone. And maybe that’s what you’re jealous of.”
So Fenn replied: “And maybe if you hadn’t fellated Tom you wouldn’t be heading the cast.”
Tom stared baldly at Fenn, and Chris threw down the playbook.
“I don’t have to take this!”
“Where are you going?” Tom stood up.
Actor to the end, Chris leapt off of the stage and began stomping up the aisle of the theatre. He was midway up before he shouted:
Then he kept stomping. Tom opened his mouth, but Fenn put up a hand and murmured, “Just wait for it.”
Tom looked at Fenn. They all looked at Fenn.
“He’s going to do it,” said Fenn. “Right…. About….”
And then Chris turned around and shouted:
“I’m gonna make you love me!”
“Now,” Fenn concluded as he left.
“What a homo” Diego declared
“Hey! None of that,” Fenn said. “When you saw me screw half the football team back in college you could say, what a homo! That—” he pointed in the direction of the vanished Chris, “does not get to be ‘what a homo!’”
Tom, arms folded over his chest, frowned and said, “Now whaddo we do, Fenn?”
“Don’t worry,” Fenn shrugged. “He’ll be back.”
“He’s not back.”
“And he’s not coming back,” Tom said. “He told me himself.”
“When? While you were screwing him this afternoon? You know,” Fenn said, “the problem with you is you’re always fucking the help. If you could learn to separate business from… well, business, maybe we wouldn’t have had Chris Campbell’s most untalented ass in the first place.”
“Fenn,” Tom told him, leaning in, “we’re in the red. They’re going to take this theatre from us. We’re going to lose our dream.”
“Tom, you don’t ever have to tell me the financial state of this theatre. I can read a bank statement as well as you. And the one thing you don’t have to tell me about is dreams. We, as a team, had a lot of collective dreams. Most of them are shot to hell, and I’m reconciled to it. The theatre, however, is not our dream. It’s my livelihood. So don’t you worry your pretty, curly little head about it. I’m not going to let Chris or anyone else be responsible for closing it down.”
“Okay, how do I look?”
“You look fine,” Brendan told him.
“Are you just saying that because you want to shut me up?”
“Or are you just saying that because we’re friends?”
“I’m saying it,” Brendan told Will, “because it’s true.”
“Oh, God, look at my hair. Look at that.” Will turned to look in the mirror. “Who wears a part? My father wore a part. This is ridiculous. Give me the comb.”
Brendan turned around in a circle. This was the first time he’d been to Will’s house. And then he found the comb and handed it to Will.
He watched Will wreck his hair with the comb, becoming increasingly displeased with the result, his face turning more and more alarmed until finally Brendan decided he should step in.
“Look, Will, why don’t you tell me what you’re trying to do.”
“I want hair like yours.”
“Oh. Well, then…. Uh,” Brendan looked around Will’s room. “Does your mom have hairspray?”
“Well, get some of hers and come right back.”
In a panic, Will ran out of the room and came back a few minutes later.
“All right,” Brendan said taking the bottle, “this’ll have to do. This is how I do mine. For the most part.”
Brendan sprayed down Will’s hair while Will demanded: “Are you sure about this? It feels really damp.”
“Well you don’t have Bed Head.”
“No, I try not to.”
“No,” Brendan said. “What I have is the bed head look.”
“Get out. They call it that?”
“Why do they call it that? I’d call it spiked. You don’t really look like you just got out of bed. I mean, I know what I look like when I get out of bed. And you don’t look like that, Brendan.”
“Well, thanks,” said Brendan. “Ahh. That should do it. Too bad you don’t have mousse. Now give me the comb.”
While Will stood in front of Brendan, he let the other boy comb out his hair for a few minutes until Brendan declared he was satisfied.
“Now you look like a rockstar.”
Will turned around and yelped.
“No. I look like Will Klasko trying to be a rockstar. I look like a loser.”
“You look the same way I do,” Brendan said.
“But it’s different, Brendan. You know how to be cool.”
“What?” Brendan said.
“You’re cool, Brendan. You’re cool and good looking with the good looking girlfriend and… everything.”
“No, I’m not. You… you really don’t know what you’re talking about, Will.”
“It took me three months to finally get Layla to go out with me, and now I don’t know what I’m going to say, or even what I’m going to wear. I mean, you had to find my outfit. You had to do my hair. I’m clueless about all of those things, Bren. You know it all. Heck, you were able to stalk Layla’s dad. You’re her hero, now. Why couldn’t I have done that?”
Brendan sighed. “Will, I don’t know what to say. Really.”
“I just… I don’t have to be cool,” Will said. “Really, I don’t have to be. But… I’d like to know what it was like. Just once. To be like you.”
“This person you’re talking about,” Brendan said. “You say he’s me, Will. But I don’t know who he is.”
I WOULD DIE FOR YOU!
I've been dying just to feel you by my side
To know that you're mine
I will cry for you
I will cry for you
I will wash away your pain with all my tears
And drown your fear
The music pumped all through him as he made his way through the hot bodies dancing slowly, slowly now under the red and blue light, pulsing into him like a drug in the blood, or like the pills he had taken an hour ago, at Barry’s advice, not paying much attention to what they were. He’d been in the mood. He was still in the mood. For just a little bit he was totally and completely there. In the tiny little sports briefs with JUST US BOYS embosseDon the waistband that showed off his tight light ass, his nice package. He moved through the crowd in sunshades and the little cowboy hat, moving against Noah or Barry or Rod, some folks he’d never seen, some guys who he knew were New York models here for the weekend. And then, now and again, he was startled out of his high by someone so fat, or so old, or so out of it that he could not have possibly been anything but that other business Guy dealt in, the business that Johnny Mellow had already put under his large nose, and over his gums.
But his nose didn’t feel large here. He felt here the way he did whenever he’d done a movie.
…You will believe in me
And I will never be ignored
I will burn for you
Feel pain for you
I will twist the knife and bleed my aching heart
I'll tear it apart
He sang with the background music:
“Da da da da da… Ah ahhh ah ahhhh!”
As he laughed he heard Derek laughing beside him.
Derek all black hair and sharp angles, but tonight his black eyes were covered in shades and they laughed and embraced and then made out and, ooh, he felt himself getting so hard.
“Johnny Mellow! Johnny Mellow pornstar!”
“Derek Everett! Derek Everett supermodel.”
“I fucking wish. Semi super model.”
There was the little end of a joint in Derek’s hand, and a beer in the other. He pulled on the joint, handed it to Johnny. Johnny took a puff and it went all through his nose, filled his lungs. It burnt through him and then settled down gentle. Derek poured beer into his mouth, fed him like a baby, and then Derek was shotgunning him, breathing marijuana into him, and they were exchanging it. Derek was trickling the last of the beer over both of their heads. He kissed him again, sloppily wet with the taste of beer and weed, and they were making out hard. Then Derek whispered something, and they were close in the hot packed room and Johnny was getting down on his knees, feeling Derek’s package, pulling his jockey’s down, swallowing his cock. Licking the head, going up and down the shaft and then taking it in and out of his mouth for dear life while Derek fucked his mouth and the music went through Derek and shoved itself in and out of Johnny’s mouth, or maybe the blowjob went through the house. He didn’t know. This shit he was on kept him horny even after he’d been doing it all day. But he wanted the real stuff without three cameras and having to fuck or be fucked in strange angles where the film could get everything. He got up off of his knees, some of the salt of Derek’ pre-come in his mouth and said, “Would you fuck upstairs?”
Breathlessly, Derek said, “Yeah!”
And they threaded their way through the crowds.
What Johnny meant was in a bedroom upstairs. Maybe the bedrooms were small. Maybe Derek was impatient. Certainly the house was so crowded it was hard to move through. Everyone was in various stages of nudity. He saw lots of cocks already, so when Derek put him against the wall, pulled down his briefs and started eating out his ass, he told himself not to care. Everyone was here and no one was watching.
Violate all my love that I'm missing
Throw away all the pain that I'm living
You will believe in me
And I can never be ignored
Noise and bodies were swirling around him and nobody cared, and people saw him fuck and get fucked all day long. So here, face half smashed against the wall, mouth open in sloppy ecstasy Derek fucked him while cokeheads passed by.
… I'd sail ships for you
To be close to you
To be a part of you
'Cause I believe in you
I believe in you
I would die for you.
THE DOORBELL RANG, and Layla stood before it.
It rang again.
Layla did not move.
Once again the doorbell rang.
“Layla!” her mother shouted.
Layla Lawden waited for her mother to arrive at the door, and then when Adele said, “Why didn’t you answer the door!” Layla hissed: “Why didn’t you? I have to make an entrance.”
Adele moved to the door, but Layla waved her hand down and whispered, “Wait till I’m upstairs,” before running up to her room.
Adele counted to five, opened the door and said to Will Klasko, with the artificial brightness she always used for white people, “Hello! Come in!”
“Thank you Mrs. Lawden,” he said, coming into the house and looking around the foyer.
“Hold on,” said Adele. “Layla’s upstairs getting finished. Layla!” she called up the stairs with a sweetness that made Layla wrinkle her brow and hold her tongue from saying something smart.
Down the stairs came Layla, looking surprised. At first she had affected surprise, but on seeing Will Klasko she actually was surprised. She’d never really noticed him before. Why hadn’t she paid attention? Why hadn’t she realized how handsome he could be?
“You look really, really beautiful, Layla.”
“I was going to say the same thing,” she said. And then amended. “I mean… I was going to say you look really nice.”
“You don’t have to say that.”
“No,” Layla discovered. “I mean it.”
“Well, I think you both look very nice,” Adele told them, wanting to throw her daughter out of the house so she could have some alone time.
“We don’t want to be late for the movie,” Will said, and Adele thought she could have kissed him.
“No. No. Let me get my jacket.”
Will took his off and brandished it for her.
“Take mine, my lady?”
Layla stopped in her tracks, looking at him strangely.
“Was that too much?” he said.
“Almost,” said Layla. “Yes.”
Guess what I did tonight?”
“Does it involve Eagle Studios porn?”
“No,” Brendan turned to Dena. “And I’d appreciate it if you didn’t bring that up again.”
“Sorry,” Dena said. “I was just playing.”
Brendan didn’t say anything, and then he told her, “Well, I helped Will Klasko get dressed for his date with Dena.”
“I didn’t know you guys were friends like that.”
“I didn’t either,” Brendan said. “You know, I don’t really have that many friends.”
“No one does, you know,” Dena said. “People just… People want to be liked so bad so they always go ‘My friend this, my friend that.’ I don’t think you have any less friends than anyone else.
“But I wish I did. I mean,” Brendan explained, “I wish I did have more friends. I’d really like that. I think… It was fun tonight. You know what Will said to me?”
“He said that I had it all together. That I was different from him because people thought I was cool, and I had you, and I was… Together. I’ve never thought of myself like that until tonight. Heck. I don’t think of myself that way now. Dena, do you think we really see ourselves the way people see us?”
“To tell you the truth,” Dena said, “I never really see myself at all. And I don’t really have much of an inkling of how folks look at me. If they do.”
“They must, Dena. You’re smart. You’re pretty. I might not know that much but I do know I got a prize. I know people look at me and wonder, ‘How did he get her? Hot as she is?’”
“No,” Brendan squeezed her shoulder.
“And then they look at you and they know, ‘Because he’s hot too!’”
“That… I don’t believe.”
“I didn’t get the part with the peanut,” Layla said as they walked to the car. “You know… I thought I was very refined. I’d still like to think I am.”
“I know you are, Layla,” Will said. “You’re what my granddad calls quality.”
“Shut up,” Layla laughed. “Besides, “I’m not quality enough to know what the hell the peanut means.”
“Well, I didn’t understand that. Or the woman floating away on the balloon.”
“Oh, my God!” Layla remembered something. “Did you see the movie I’m Not There?”
Will laughed. “I got it out from the library last week.
“All right. Be honest. How did it make you feel?”
Will chuckled and told her, “Like I wasn’t there. I didn’t know what was going on!”
“I know. Me neither. No, I mean, I got what was going on. But the cover of the movie said, seven people, and they’re all Bob Dylan. And I was alright with that. I though they were going to be, you know, like Bob Dylan at different times in his life. Only it turned out that none of them was Bob Dylan.”
“Everyone was supposed to be someone else who was Bob Dylanesque, right? Like they embodied some Bob Dylan quality.”
“Which,” said Layla, “is not the same thing as being Bob Dylan.
“And then they had the one with Heath Ledger where he was an actor who played a singer who was someone like Bob Dylan. What the fuck was that?”
Layla burst out laughing. “I’ve never heard you say the word fuck before.”
“I’ve never had to say the word fuck before,” Will said. “But that movie changed me. “
“And then the Richard Gere thing— where he was Billy the Kid but not Billy the Kid and Billy the Kid was Bob Dylan—”
“Oh, shit! I know. And then I watched the commentary.”
“Did you, Layla? How? I wanted to, but the movie took too much out of me.”
“I thought the commentary would explain it more. But they were talking about how Bob Dylan was so complex they had to do him like this. Well, I just turned the DVD player off after that. I mean…. I could follow Gandhi, and Gandhi was, well…”
“Exactly. And I could follow Jesus of Nazareth, and he was Jesus. But Bob was so complex they had to make a crap movie like that.”
Will was laughing so hard he was doubled over now.
“Well,” Layla said. “I just couldn’t except some bullshit like that.”
Will kept laughing and Layla opened her mouth, but now she was laughing too. She just repeated, “I couldn’t. I couldn’t… I couldn’t accept that bullshit. I didn’t understand, and I knew I didn’t understand everything. But I also knew I was being bullshitted.”
And then Will said, “But that’s what I like about you?”
“What? That I cuss too much?”
“No, Layla. Well, yes actually.”
“And can’t stand bullshit?”
“Well, definitely that too,” he said. “But really, it’s how even though we might not get something… it doesn’t stop us from giving it a try.”
Before he came to, there was that deep throbbing in him. Way deep. Asshole deep, and he squeezed himself together like an accordion and savored it. But with consciousness came the sickness and the disorientation. Things were beginning to piece themselves together. Just enough. The hallway was emptier than before. Music was still loud. His head was throbbing. Everybody spoke too loudly. Bursts of red and blue were in his eyes. Where was he? Wasn’t he? Derek Everett was deep fucking him. Where was Derek now? Blindly, Johnny stumbled through the house looking for someone he half trusted. Anyone he had let himself really like would be too fucked up to help him.
With as much care as possible he came down the stairs to the burst off screaming noise that was the main floor, that was the place they usually worked. He looked from face to face, from body to body. And then, there he was, tall and narrow, plain and good natured with his camera, filming. That filmmaker Guy had hired. He staggered toward him.
“Todd!” he croaked.
Startled, Todd Meraden let the camera drop to catch Johnny. Johnny opened his mouth to say, probably, “Thank you.”
But instead he turned his head and threw up.
“I’m usually much more sophisticated than this,” Johnny’s voice came from the pillow his face crushed into where he lay on Todd’s bed.
“I try to maintain,” he began, and then moaned, “Owwww…”
Todd stood over him solicitously. “I’ll get you some water. Can you handle water?”
“Actually,” his words came out more imprecise, the more precise he tried to sound, “Water is pretty much all I can handle.”
“All right,” said Todd. “I’m just going to go to the sink.”
As the water in the little bathroom ran, Todd said, “I had planned to go home and come back tomorrow. I don’t want to leave you here,” he said over the running water. He came out.
“Here you go, Johnny.”
“That’s my stage name,” Johnny said, taking the water.
“My real name is Paul Anderson.” As Johnny Mellow drank the cup of water, trickles escaped and ran down his chest. The cowboy hat was gone so all he had on was white briefs.
“I never tell anyone that,” he said, reflexively. He belched.
“I’m sorry. That was so. I’m so…”
“I’ll get you more water,” Todd said.
He came back a moment later, and Johnny drank. The music from down below thumped up into these white carpeted rooms Guy had set aside for Todd.
“Thank you. You’re really kind,” Johnny told him.
“Johnny, Paul… uh…”
“Who’s Paul?” Johnny said.
“You just said,” Todd began, and then said, “Johnny. You’re really not well. I’m going to take you home and bring you back tomorrow.”
“Oh, I can’t leave.”
“Well, you can’t stay here. Not the way you are.”
“I’m,” everything Johnny Mellow had said was slurred and stupid. Nothing had come out right. Now as he said, “I—” his voice caught on something. He leaned over on his side and threw up again, for a long time.
Todd looked on, helplessly, and when the retching was done, he said, “We’ve got to get some clothes for you. Where are your clothes, Johnny?”
“I should find some clothes. I should take my camera. Hold on Johnny.”
Johnny was on his side. Todd pulled his underwear band and looked inside.
“Medium. I’d guess… size thirty-four. You a thirty-four, Johnny? I’ll be back. It’s so many naked folks around here there’s got to be someone’s clothes lying around.”
As Todd left the room, heading back to the party, he heard Johnny in a sing song voice murmuring: “Roun’ roun’ roun’’
London bridges falling roun
Longdon’ bridges falling roun
My fair lady
No, Johnny remembered, falling down.
London bridge is falling down.
My fair lady!
There it was!
Johnny Mellow put his hands to his damp head and realized his cowboy hat was gone. His wonderful, sexy cowboy hat. He was so sexy with his briefs on, with guys running their hands up and down his chest, touching his package, cupping him there, touching his ass, winking at him, murmuring about how he’d fucked the life out of them. Not like this, not crumpled up, high and sick all over the place. Not without his hat. Goddamn, he’d been so fucking beautiful.
“All right, Johnny, get into these clothes. I need you to get into these jeans. Can you do that? There you go.”
Todd had the jeans halfway on Johnny, and was pulling the tee shirt over his head when Johnny said, “Todd, you’re so nice. You’re so good. You’re just like my grandpa. Not old like him. Or dead like him. But like I think he was when he was young. You’re so nice. Are you gay? You can’t be gay. Gay guys are assholes.”
“My boyfriend thinks I’m very gay. I can assure you,” Todd said. “People are people. Some of them are assholes. Now come on and help me help you get these jeans on.”
“I’m an asshole,” Johnny said, reflexively at first. And then he burst out, “I’m an asshole! I’m an ASSHOLE.” And began weeping.
FENN HOUGHTON did not want to answer the knock at the door because it couldn’t mean anything good. Todd had a key to the house, and no one else should come knocking past midnight, hell not past nine. Anyone who might would have had the sense to call first. So, at the knock, Fenn stayed in bed. In fact, he crawled deeper into the covers.
The knock came again, and Fenn thought, “It could be the police with news about Todd. It could be some woman trying to escape being raped. Like the woman I heard about in New York. She kept screaming, but no one would come out of their apartment to help her, and so she died.”
Carried away by Christian duty and an overactive imagination, Fenn hopped out of bed, pulling his housecoat over him, and ran down the steps, into the living room and over the carpet to answer the door.
“Todd!” And then he looked at the man slumped in his arms.
“Who the fuck is this?”
“Would you just help me?”
“Ah!” Fenn remembered himself. “Give him here.”
Together they brought him through the door, and in a slurred voice the boy, for that’s what he was, Fenn observed, declared, “My real name ish Paul Andershin.”
“Well, my real name is Fenn Houghton, and we’re going to put your ass to bed.
“This,” he said to Todd, “is turning into the crazy ass end of a long ass day.”
“We’ll take him to the back bedroom,” Todd said.
“The hell we will. We’ll put him right here on this sofa. Um, over here,” Fenn lurched him across the living room. They let him go gently. Johnny Mellow groaned.
“There you go, deadweight,” Fenn said, stretching out his arms and rubbing them before turning to Todd.
“Now, are you going to tell me who the hell he is?”
“He was at the party.”
“The party you were taping for your movie? At the porn place?”
“So what’s Alfalfa over there doing hanging out with pornstars?”
“Fenn, he is a pornstar.”
Unimpressed, Fenn turned to look at him and still remained unimpressed.
“Are you serious?”
“I thought they were cuter than that. Not that he’s bad, but… It’s a thousand white men just like him here in Rossford.”
“Well, not really,” Todd differed. “He takes off his clothes and has sex with people. I saw him do a movie today. I taped it.”
“Jesus God,” Fenn murmured.
“He’s not bad. No matter what you think.”
“I don’t think anything,” Fenn said. “Well, I do think… What the hell is in him? Do we need to get him to a hospital?”
“No, apparently this is sort of a frequent thing. Only, I couldn’t leave him there in the shape he’s in.”
Johnny Mellow yawned and stretched out on the sofa. Then turned around and went back to sleep.
“Well, he can’t just sleep in his clothes,” Fenn said after awhile.
“Those aren’t his clothes,” Todd said. “When I found him… Well, he found me. He sort of collapsed on me… He only had underwear on. But it was that type of party.”
“You say it like I’m supposed to say, ‘Yeah. That type.’ What type?”
“One where pornstars in their underwear pass out all fucked up on drugs.”
“Say, I’m really, really tired, baby.”
“We’ve got to be up and back in Port Ridge by about noon, so do you think you’ll be able to wake me?”
“Yes, my dear. I’ll wake you just the way you woke me,” Fenn yawned. “Let’s go to bed. Uh… wait…”
Fenn went down the hall into the closet, and brought back an old blanket that smelled of cedar.
“There we go,” he said, and draped it over Johnny Mellow.
“You won’t believe the day I had,” Todd said.
“Well, as of now, sense I put a pornstar to bed on the good sofa, I think I will.”
“But this has been the lightest part of it, Hought.”
“Well, I think I can top you. Not in nudity, but certainly in tragedy.”
“I just brought some coked up kid who was naked when I found him into our house. Top that for tragedy.”
“I just found out the playhouse is going bankrupt and we lost our star because I couldn’t keep my mouth shut.”
“Oh,” Todd said, and then was silent for a minute as they headed up the stairs.
“That does kinda beat me.”