I called Chris after the limo dropped me off at home. Jonathan had gone out to the coffee shop to write and he wasn’t back yet. I put some music on and lay down in the middle of the bed with the cordless phone to talk.
“How’d it go?” Chris asked.
“Boring, which is just fine with me. Exciting would have meant trouble, speaking of which, Lacey never deigned to make an appearance.”
“I was wondering about that. She tried to call here like six times last night, I can tell from the hangups on the machine. But she never left a message, and when I tried to call her back, I got her machine. Man, I hope she’s okay.”
“Me too.” And then the silence got kind of awkward as I tried to imagine what I would do if Jonathan called me six times a night after I broke up with him and didn’t leave a message, and then didn’t show up to things. It was kind of hard to imagine Jonathan acting like that, but it was easy to imagine how guilt-ridden I’d feel about it if he did. So then I cleared my throat and said, “It’s not your fault, you know. You can’t make her act different or feel different.”
“I know. I still wonder if there was more I could’ve done.”
“You’ve got your own problems to worry about.”
“Well, yeah, and maybe if I hadn’t let myself get so messed up I could’ve helped her… except she’s the one who got me back into drugs in the first place… and my therapist says don’t play the blame game but there you go, I just played it to a draw.”
“You’ll find a winner next time.”
“You think so?”
“You should’ve been there today. I sat between these two gorgeous women. You would’ve easily gone home with both of their numbers. Me, I was pretending I wasn’t there.”
“With my luck Lacey would’ve shown up at just the wrong moment and had a cat-fight with one or both of them.” He chuckled, then sobered suddenly. “No one’s heard from her?”
“No. Have you tried calling her again?”
“No, I’ve been afraid to. If I make it seem like I’m pursuing her it’ll just get complicated again.”
“Ah, I see.”
“But I’m worried about her anyway.”
“Because you still like her, even if you can’t be in a relationship with her?”
“Pretty much. I mean, come on, we shared some meaningful times together, and I loved her until I realized what an insane, toxic influence she was.”
In other words he still loved her. The way I still loved Ziggy. But let’s not talk about that right now.
Chris went on. “And also that either she didn’t give an actual damn about me or she’d changed so much that she could pretend she didn’t.”
“Hmm.” I could see I was setting myself up for a painful time breaking up with Jonathan. I lapsed into silence, trying again to come up with the perfect plan for separation.
“You could call her,” Chris suggested.
“Lacey?” For a moment I had forgotten why Lacey was relevant.
“You could call to say hey, sorry you didn’t make it to the thing, I had a good time, and at least find out if she’s alive?”
“Oh. Since you can’t.”
“Yeah. I mean, would you do that? For me?”
“Of course. It’s not like she can hit me through the phone.”
“You’re a true friend, Daron.”
“Even though I punched you in the neck that one time?”
“Especially because of that.”
“All right. I’ll call her. If I get her voice mail, though, I’ll leave a message and that’s it.”
“Yeah. One’s fine. Do any more and she’ll know I put you up to it. If that’s all we can do that’s all we can do. I appreciate it.”
“OK, I’ll call you back and let you know what happens.”
I had to get out of bed to look up Lacey’s number, but sure enough, I had it: hand-written in my notebook.
It rang four times. I was about to hang up when someone picked up. “Hello?” said a tentative female voice, very low, into the phone.
“Lacey?” It didn’t sound like her but I wasn’t sure. “It’s Daron. I went to the fundraiser today. I figured I’d call and tell you about it, you know?”
“Lacey can’t talk right now,” the woman said, sounding furtive. Was it her mom? She sounded too young. “She’s kind of busy right now.”
“Um, all right.” At least I know she’s alive, I thought. But then the tentative, suspicious way the woman was talking made me wonder. “When she didn’t show up today I thought maybe she was sick. Were you there?”
“No. I… don’t make those kind of public appearances anymore.” She cleared her throat.
I knew who it was suddenly. “Mandy Killington?”
“Formerly. I don’t need the stage name now that I’m out of a job. Daron Moondog?”
“Formerly,” I said. “Ditto.”
Her reserved caution broke suddenly and she sounded real. “Waaaaiit, what? Really? What happened?”
“Uh, yeah. My record company apparently owns my name. So if I want to work I need another one.”
“That… sounds pretty messed up.” Now that her guard was down I could hear the “Valley” lilt in her voice.
“It is, which is why I’ve been doing gigs like the one Lacey read me the riot act over. I’m sorry about that, you know. It wasn’t like I was trying to, uh, empower your batterer or anything. I didn’t even know.”
“Don’t waste your breath on that piece of trash,” she said. “He’s such a, you know, spiritually empty shell, which makes him an easy tool of the devil.”
“Uh, yeah.” I wondered how many more weird twists there were going to be in the conversation. The devil. Right. “Um, so what name are you going by now?”
“I’m trying to come up with one, actually, that works the whole reluctant prophet thing I have going on. So instead of Jeremiah maybe I should be Jereh-MEE-ah, you know?”
“Are you a reluctant prophet?”
“Well, I’m not reluctant anymore.”
“Since I can’t get work as a model now, I realized it was totally God’s way of recruiting me to his army, to be the one to speak out against the… the… spiritual emptiness of our vapid, celebrity culture. Are you an empty vessel, Daron?”
“I don’t think so?”
“If your heart isn’t full of love, full of God, the devil moves right in. Notice that?”
“Seriously. Think about it. You know a ton of people, I bet, right? Rockers and actors and models and millionaires! They have everything, right? Money and fame and stuff. So why are they addicted to drugs? What else could they possibly need? Love. God’s love. That’s what’s missing. They try to fill that spiritual void with a high and you know how that goes.”
“I’ve tried to stay away from drugs, actually.”
“They’ll get you eventually unless you accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior.”
“Wait, does it have to be Jesus? What about Buddha or whoever?”
“Well, okay, it’s possible that some other religions might be just our same God reaching out to people in other ways and eventually one day we’ll all be the same. I don’t know. I’m going to stick with what I know, which is Jesus.”
“Okay, that’s fair, I guess. Um, so anyway, is Lacey doing okay?”
She heaved a dramatic sigh. “To tell you the truth, I’m here to minister to her, but I’m not doing such a hot job of it.”
“No? I thought Lacey was into Jesus, too.”
“Well, she is, but she’s pretty deep in the devil’s grip right now.”
“Is that a euphemism for she’s high?”
“Um, I wish. She locked herself in the bathroom a while ago, threatening to kill herself.”
“Jeezus, Mandy!” My heart raced suddenly. “How long ago? What if she hurt herself in there!”
“Hang on, hang on, you’re the one who called on the frickin’ phone! Here, I’ll go check.”
I heard a clatter as she put the phone down somewhere. I guess it wasn’t cordless? I don’t know. I hung there, paralyzed, sure that I was going to hear a scream or something. I waited a long time, I think. I’m not sure.
Then another clatter as she picked up the phone again. “Okay, she’s out now. She was ransacking it to see if there was anything left. Apparently her mom took the sleeping pills with her to Tahoe. She didn’t find a damn thing and now she’s crying but at least she’s listening to me.”
“But is she suicidal?”
“No, no, I think she was just being a drama queen earlier.”
“I’m sure. I’m going to make a frozen pizza and put on a movie and I’m sure she’ll be fine. She’s fine as long as someone’s here.”
“And you’re going to stay with her?”
“Yeah. Yeah, ministering, like I said. What do you think, Jeremeah? Does it work? Too new agey?”
“I think it makes you sound like a rap star.”
“I’m worried if it sounds too weird people will think I’m just one of these woo-woo weirdos who thinks they see angels, and really just need to get on Prozac or something, you know? I want to sound trustworthy.”
“Then you ought to pick something that sounds more like a gospel singer or a country music star.”
She gasped. “Like Amy Grant! You’re a genius. You’re so right. You know, Christian rock is starting to get really big now. Okay, who were the female prophets? Miriam? Anna?”
“Can you use saint names, like the Pope does?”
“Probably. Well, I’m going to go read some Bible passages to Lacey while the pizza’s in the oven. Maybe I’ll come across something.”
“Maybe a flash of inspiration will hit you.”
“Of course. Duh. I’ll feel the holy spirit when I come up with the right thing. Thanks, Daron. You’ve been a big help.”
“Um, no problem. Tell Lacey I’m glad we did the fundraiser and I hope she feels better.”
“I will. Bye now.”
I was still lying there staring at the ceiling trying to figure out what that conversation had actually been about when Jonathan came in. “You all right?” he asked.
“Hang on, I have to tell Chris something. Listen in and you’ll know why I’m in such a daze.”
I dialed my home number. Chris picked it up right away.
“You must’ve talked to her if it took you this long to call back,” he said. His voice was gravelly like he’d been smoking. I didn’t ask.
“Close. Mandy Killington was there. She answered the phone and then went on about how now that she’s quitting modeling she’s becoming an evangelist. I got warned if I don’t accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior then drugs are going to get me, too.”
“Well, my program says ‘higher power’ is okay. It doesn’t have to be Jesus.”
“That’s what I thought, but anyway…” I had a sudden thought. Ziggy had gone to India. We kind of supposed it was a spiritual quest but I hadn’t really thought about it before, not in those terms. Ziggy had been borderline molested by a church choir director and talked about how his mother had shopped for churches. If Ziggy was looking to fill that gap with spirituality, I didn’t see Jesus being his choice either. “Anyway, she’s trying to re-brand herself as a reluctant prophet, trying to pick a new stage name, and in the meantime Lacey tried to find any last scrap of drugs in the house but apparently her mother took them all with her to Lake Tahoe or something. So now they’re having frozen pizza and Bible readings.”
“Yeah, my head is spinning a little.”
“Well, thanks for checking in. I guess she’s okay. I mean, she’s still incredible fucked up. But at least she’s not OD’ing next to the pool or something.”
“Hey Daron. When are you coming home? We miss you around here, you know.”
I met Jonathan’s gaze. “I know. I’ve gotta go.”
I tried to pretend I was saying it to J. It didn’t work.