390. Promised Land

The next day I was asleep under a thatched shade thingie on the beach when Jonathan got another phone call. I was just waking up, and looking at the spot on my arm where the skin was still darker than the rest — where the pyrotechnic had burned me, I mean — and thinking how different my body felt than it had while we were on the road. I was less tense, less high strung, I guess. I wasn’t convinced that was a good thing because I also felt unstrung, if you know what I mean. But if I’m going to use the string example, I guess I know as well as anybody that you can crack the neck of a guitar if you wind too tight for too long. But you know, it sounds best when all the strings are tight.

Whatever. Maybe that analogy doesn’t work for people. Or maybe it does. Anyway. Jonathan sat down on the lounge chair next to mine and I said, “I don’t think I’ve ever been so relaxed. Physically, I mean.”

“Maybe you haven’t been.” His eyes were hidden behind sunglasses but he had that curious tilt to his head. “You aren’t worried about Zig?”

“I am. But I don’t feel it in my gut like I did before we left.”

He patted my arm. “Maybe some part of you knows he’s doing okay.”

“You think?” That idea had never occurred to me. I wasn’t a believer in “woo woo” kind of stuff, and I don’t think Jonathan was, either. But whatever. Jonathan had something to tell me.

“So I just got another call. They want me to fly to LA for a meeting.”


“Straight from here. Carynne’s got the hotel washing my laundry right now so I’ll have something to wear when I get there.”

“Wow, this is really serious.” I sat up so I could look at him without craning my neck. “Wait, why is Carynne doing your laundry?”

“She’s not, she has the hotel doing it. And, um, I think once a manager always a manager…? She was on the phone before I could stop her.” He shrugged. “Anyway, so first there’s this meeting, and then it sounds like I might have to stick around Hollywood for a week or two.”

“That’s good, though, right?” In my mind, thinking like a musician, the longer a gig lasted, the better. But I wasn’t sure how it worked for writers, so I asked, “Are they paying you while you’re there?”

“Well, that’s the thing. I’m not getting anything by the hour or by the day. I’m getting a payment for the rights and I’ll get royalties and stuff if the film makes money, but… This is sort of like the part where you go into the studio. You don’t get paid for the hours you spend in there.”

“Ah, gotcha.”

“In fact, you spend money doing it.” He ran his fingers through his hair, which had gotten even blonder in the sun. “On the other hand, it’s an incredible opportunity to be involved in the process. All the horror stories you hear are about them taking a book and ruining it. That they want me to be involved… it’s great.” His look went from dreamy to slightly panicked again. “I better look into finding somewhere cheap to stay.”

“You want me to come with you?” I asked suddenly.

“Daron,” he said. “This won’t be like a vacation.”

“I”m not expecting it to be,” I said. “I’m not saying let’s stay at the Ritz on my dime, either, if that’s what you’re thinking. I have another idea. Remo asked me if I could house-sit.”

J’s eyebrows went up. “Oh? Where’s he live?”

“Um, one of the hilly parts. Laurel Canyon, I think?” I pulled my sunglasses down to see him better. “It’d be free. He’s got like five bedrooms in that place. He sounded really disappointed when I didn’t say yes to his invitation.”

“Why’d you say no?”

“I didn’t say no. I said I’d think about it. And you just gave me something else to think about.”

It took more phone calls and such, but the upshot is, that’s the story of how Jonathan and I ended up going directly to LA from Mexico. There’s nothing left to tell you about Mexico anyway. Beach, tequila, repeat. So let’s move on.

Carynne and Courtney went back to Boston. Courtney went with instructions to re-do my room. At first she was reluctant, claiming she didn’t know what I liked. I explained that what I liked was not having to make any decisions about what furniture looked like.

Remo picked us up himself–insisted on it, in fact–and since Jonathan hadn’t been there before gave us a tour when we got in. “All the rooms have queen-size beds so pick any one you want,” he said, then tried to correct himself, “I mean, ones, I mean, oh hell.”

We just laughed. “I’ll take one for a writing office,” J. suggested with a smile.

Remo was red-faced but goodnatured about it.

He grilled steaks and burgers and vegetables on a propane grill in the back, and warned us to check what the fire threat was before we fired it up in the future, I guess because sometimes it could get so dry that a stray spark could send the whole neighborhood up in flames. We sat on the deck watching the sunset and catching him up a little more about Matthew’s photography show.

When he and I cracked open fresh beers, Jonathan excused himself to do what he called his “daily typing.” So then Remo and I sat drinking in silence and watching the sky turn to purple.

“You want to know what I got out of your old man?” he asked, casual-like.

“Fuck yes.” I took a pull on my beer.

He turned his own bottle in his fingers, like he was looking for cold spots. “You were right. They thought he was suicidal.” Ziggy, he meant, but even Remo knew, I guess, that in my world “he” meant Ziggy unless otherwise specified.

“I told you that had to be it. But was he?”

“Well, remember that this was Digger talking, so I actually have no idea, but I’ll tell you what he said. First off, whatever had happened or been said happened before he even got there. At first I thought yeah right, that’s the kind of thing he always says to make it sound like not his fault. But later he told me the doctor said it started all the way back in the ambulance.”

“What started?”

“Them being freaked out and thinking they had to restrain him.”

“Restrain? Physically?” I jerked upright in alarm. All this time I’d been imagining Ziggy, woozy from his performance high and maybe from hitting his head, had said something crazy-sounding, or maybe even got misinterpreted. Just like I was hoping I had been wrong about thinking what I thought when he climbed up the stack. I suddenly wondered if he’d tried to do something extreme in the ambulance.

Remo made a “calm down” kind of motion with his hand. “I don’t mean like with a strait jacket or anything. I meant retain more than restrain, sorry.”

“But what did he say?”

“Digger wanted to know that, too. Best guess is he was describing what happened with the fall to the paramedics and either they suspected or he flat out told them it was a suicide attempt.”

“Fuck.” That made sense but it didn’t make sense. “Did that mean he wanted to kill himself, still? Or that he regretted trying but they kept him under watch anyway?”

“No idea. The important thing is it’s out in the open now and they’re dealing with it. Along with the drug thing.”

I leaned back again and looked at the sky, which was growing dark but there were no stars. “I don’t even know how to deal with this. Maybe because right now I don’t even know what to do.”

Remo got up and closed the lid of the grill and then sat back down. “I’ve had two girlfriends who were suicidal.”

“No shit, really?”

“Yep. One was the kind who would threaten to kill herself, but who as far as I know only tried it once, a year or two before she met me, and after a while I started to doubt even that was true.”

I kept my mouth shut but I was thinking I knew what it was like to be with someone whose word you questioned all the time. But Ziggy had never used suicide as a threat. “Why’d she make the threat, then?”

“She wanted me to get as worked up over her as she got over me.”

“You’re really not the type to get worked up over anything, Reem.”

“I know. And I guess for her that was a problem. Once she figured that out, she moved on. Anyway, the other one never said anything, never gave a hint anything was wrong until I found her passed out after she tried to do it with an OD on sleeping pills. That’s when I threw away all the drugs in the house.”

“Wait, did she live?”

“She did. And after living through it, she was really changed. Changed enough she was ready to move on, too.” He gave a little “what can you do?” sort of shrug but he looked pained. “Anyway, there are lots and lots of reasons people attempt suicide. The main piece of advice I have is listen. Listen real hard to what he’s got to say about it.”

“I’d love to,” I said. “But from what I understand there will be another ten days of radio silence before there’s even a chance.”

“Not that you’re counting the days or anything…” Remo ribbed gently.

“Yeah.” I finished the last of my beer, upending the bottle in my mouth. Then I glanced back at the house.

Remo glanced back, too. Then he said, “So how’s it work, exactly?”

“How’s what…? Oh. You mean with Jonathan and Ziggy? I don’t know. It’s new. I have no idea.”

“Aren’t you kind of playing with fire there?”

My hackles rose a little but before I could say something stupid or defensive or both he went on.

“I’m the last person in the world who’ll tell you what to do, Daron. And I know things can get really complicated. Here’s the simple part. I don’t like to see you heartbroken. That’s the only reason I’m nervous about… anything. Or anybody.”

“Thanks, Reem.” I really didn’t want him worrying. I had enough of that myself. “I’ll figure out it. Somehow. Right now, I’m just taking it one day at a time.”


  • whatisit says:

    Oh! The angst! Will it ever end?

  • Connie Cox says:

    I love you, Remo. If only you’d taken Daron w/ you all those years ago. He was young, but it couldn’t have ended up much worse, huh? But then, hindsight….

  • Jude says:

    Stick with J, dude. He’s stable, he’s smart, and he’s a grownup instead of a drama queen.

    • daron says:

      He is, isn’t he?

      • LenaLena says:

        He is also bland and a bit boring and if this story was just about Daron and Jonathan I would have stopped reading it ages ago. Healthy relationships do not make for riveting literature, sorry.

        • Linda says:

          I agree with you. Jonathan is a nice guy and has been there for Daron, but the relationship with Ziggy is what keeps me coming back to this story! And I feel bad for Ziggy, he may have messed with Daron’s head alot
          but I think he was really trying to be better for Daron and it must be hard for him to see D and J together as a couple. I wish we could know what Ziggy is thinking!

  • Amy says:

    I think that’s a remarkably mature sentiment, especially since J is allowing room for the friendship without letting jealousy get in the way. It gives you someone to lean on while Ziggy gets himself together, and you figure out who really needs what from whom, and whether that’s even on the table.

    I can really see how, “just needs someone to get worked up over them,” could be applied to Ziggy just as much as Remo’s ex, and that’s never going to end in a healthy relationship.

    • daron says:

      The whole “just needs someone to get worked up over them” idea gave me a lot to think about. Including the fact that maybe it’s my fault that I hold back so much. I know I do. I know it. It’s not just that I’m deadpan. But maybe that’s how I am. And maybe that’s why it never works when we try.

      • Bill Heath says:

        If you being twenty and Ziggy twenty-one when you met was your choice, it might be your fault. If you being emotionally abused by your family (your universe) for the better part of two decades was your choice, it might be your fault. Otherwise, stop beating yourself up.

        Ziggy was twenty-one. He had had a loving parent and was not raised to think of himself as worthless and a pervert. He’s a performer, you’re a performer, he likes boys (and girls), you like boys, both dropped out of college, why you’re practically the same person. Since you’re exactly like Ziggy, it’s OK for him to be manipulative and to push you about coming out; you have no hangups about your sexuality or your worth. Ultimately this isn’t really Ziggy’s fault either. It’s a perfect storm.

        Thinking in that vein, were I treating Ziggy I would try to uncover the source of his belief that sex can, maybe should, be used for manipulation. He’s a good-hearted person and not atypical for one of his age. It’s OK if we never find out; I’m fairly certain Ziggy was manipulated with sex at some time in his childhood. That is the most common source of the behavior, followed by psychosis. And, Ziggy is not psychotic.

        The unseen father, an older brother, a clergyman or teacher, one of Mom’s boyfriends, there’s a large enough suspect pool out there. The most serious complication of such childhood sexual abuse is becoming a pedophile (I don’t see that). The second is it becoming easier to betray a relationship. That’s the obstacle course Daron will have to help Ziggy navigate if they are to succeed.

  • Sara Winters says:

    I can’t decide if I love how complicated this is or if I want everyone to just talk it out. I think I feel bad for Jonathan because I don’t see this ending well for him.

    • ctan says:

      I think Jonathan as much as anyone needs to decide what he wants, though. They are all riding a train right now that none of them are driving.

  • Chris says:

    I could read this entire series from start to finish again from Ziggy’s perspective. For some reason, my heart just breaks for him. I want Daron and Ziggy to be happy and be together.

  • Bill Heath says:

    Really good fiction is about transformation. Really good serial fiction is about evolution, which is much harder to pull off.

    Jonathan is a necessary element of Daron’s evolution and of Ziggy’s. If he didn’t exist, ctan would have to invent him.

    Oh, wait, she did.

    Whether D&J get married and live orgasmically ever after, or D leaves J for Carynne, or whatever else the future holds, I suspect we will never see the end of Jonathan. He is mature way beyond his years, which is a role model for both D&Z. Somebody said he isn’t jealous. He is incredibly jealous. He’s just mature enough to know which manifestations of jealousy will cost him how much.

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