I ended up walking to the gas station in the dark, while she and Flip and Chief were stoned and they weren’t paying attention to me. It was a pretty long walk–forty five minutes?–but that was all right. It wasn’t very cold and it was good to get some exercise. Walking back I might feel differently but at least on the way there I was kind of glad to be out and moving.
Serendipity. When the gas station was in sight, my pager went off, and it was Ziggy’s home number.
I had the sudden worry that the phone would be broken when I got there. But no, it worked.
He picked up right away. “Daron? That was quick.”
“I was almost to the phone when I got the page. You doing all right?”
“I’m tired and I’m lonely,” he said, which was good because it was no bullshit, but was bad because that meant he wasn’t pulling his punches. And that one got me in the gut. “How about you?”
“I need a reality check from you.” After all, that’s why I had walked to the phone in the first place.
“Oh? You know it’s my favorite thing in the world to provide one. Well, maybe behind sex.”
“I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic. Being with Claire has my detection systems all messed up.”
“Which is why you need a reality check.”
“Exactly.” I leaned against the white-washed wall while a gas station attendant I hadn’t seen before came out, walked several yards down the road, and lit a cigarette. “I think I’m getting better at reading her and figuring out what she means.”
“But it’s come at the price of not knowing what anyone else means?”
That made me laugh a little. “No, no. It’s just that I’m only now figuring out how deep the manipulation goes. And so I want to apologize or make up or something for being blind to it.”
“Well, that’s interesting. What did you think you were missing?”
“This is where the reality check comes in. Ziggy, I think she’s been trying to drive a wedge between us all along.”
I heard a hot snort come out of his nostrils. “You really think so? I think it’d be better if we owned our relationship conflicts instead of pinning them on her.”
“We can both own our relationship conflicts and also be aware of what’s going on. Or am I imagining it? Don’t you feel like she’s trying to drive us apart?”
I heard a rustling sound that was probably him climbing into bed. I heard his head hit the pillow. “How about you tell me what makes you think she’s trying to drive us apart.”
“First of all, every time I bring you up, she tries to tell me what you’re thinking and feeling.” The clerk down the road was smoking with a vengeance, taking long drags and then tapping his foot while he blew smoke up into the air, his head back with impatience. I imagined him rehearsing a fight with his mother. Or girlfriend. “‘Ziggy wouldn’t like that,’ she says. Even if she’s right, it’s as if I don’t know you way better than she does? Like she’s trying to convince me.”
“Interesting. What else?”
“And just, come on. I’m a dumbass, sometimes, but how else did I get so wrapped up in what she wants? You interpreted my staying behind as me choosing Claire over you, while I thought I was choosing Claire over Jordan. I thought that because she wanted me to think that.”
“She wanted you to go to New York without me. She wanted to get a cabin in the woods. She wanted… you get the idea. Is it all adding up, or is it me?”
“Hm. It did seem very… weird that you just up and moved without even telling me.” He hmmmed again and I imagined him examining his nails.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time, like the logical move. But when I think back on it, I have to question why I thought that? I think maybe I underestimated how much of it was really Claire’s idea and Claire’s agenda. Because she makes me feel like it was my idea. But if it really was my idea I would have acted differently. Right?”
“If there hadn’t already been a wedge between us, yeah.”
“Hmm.” He didn’t sound convinced.
“I’m not saying I won’t fuck up by making a decision without asking you sometime. But the more I think about it, the weirder it feels that I did what I did.”
“Well, all due diligence, I did lay it on really thick that time on the phone. I mean, I didn’t really think you’d go so far as to have me show up at the motel to find you literally gone without telling me, even though emotionally, at the time, that was how abandoned I felt.” He sighed. “So you might feel it’s more extreme now than you did. But I agree there’s been a level of manipulation and coercion going on. She’s warmed up to you, she’s won you over, because she knows that’s how to get what she wants, dear one.”
“But how come she can manipulate me to get what she wants and I’m okay with that, but I’m not okay with you manipulating me to get what you want?”
“It sounds to me like you’re not okay with her manipulating you, it’s just that you didn’t realize you were being manipulated. Until now.”
“Oh. Yeah, I suppose that is what I’m saying. That is, if we agree it’s real and not my imagination that she was driving us apart.”
“Oh, she was definitely driving a wedge between us. That was one of the reasons I was so pissed off that you chose her over me, because that meant she won.”
“Wait, so you felt like that before?” The pictured I thought was becoming clear suddenly rotated ninety degrees.
“That Claire wanted me out of the picture? Yes. When I came back after Radio City I started to feel it. Something had changed, but I didn’t really engage to try to figure out what it was. I just tried to stick things out with you, for you.”
“And here I was telling you I didn’t want you involved in making decisions about my mother, because… why? Because my ego is so invested in it? Not. It’s because Claire doesn’t want you involved in making the decisions.” I wasn’t even sure she ever came out and said it. I don’t think so. She just implied it through telepath and mind control. “So I turned that into me not wanting you involved… but that’s not true. And I don’t even know why she feels it’s necessary to push you away.”
“Because she can’t manipulate me the way she manipulates you.”
“Which kind of proves the point?”
“It very well might.”
We sat there in silence for a while. I watched the attendant crush out the cigarette in the gravel on the roadside and walk back. He was white and under his baseball cap there might have been a mullet.
“How are you doing?” I asked Ziggy eventually, even though I’d already asked that. “Claire says you want to stay in New York and not come back here because you can’t stand not being the center of attention.”
“She’s not completely wrong. But here I am and I’m just as bored and lonely here as I was there. It’s a severe test of my commitment to monogamy when I’m scratching myself like a caged animal.”
His tone was very blasé, but that sort of talk from Ziggy was always concerning. “Scratching yourself?”
“Masturbating every chance I get. Seeing just how much I can get away with.”
Jeezus. “Like what?”
“You know, can I get off in Priss’s bathroom before she’s done with the appointment before me? Or in the back of the car without Tony noticing?”
“If you think Tony doesn’t know exactly what you’re doing, you’re more deluded than I am.”
He chuckled. “I know. That one’ll be tricky to pull off. I haven’t tried it yet. Have to wait for a moment when he’s on the car phone and distracted. See, I can get pretty close with just some tantric breathing and vibrating my thumb in just the right spot–” He broke off with a moan and I realized he was masturbating while talking to me.
“Dear one.” He sucked in a breath. “Jerk off with me?”
“I’m standing outside a gas station on a two-lane highway in the middle of Tennessee.”
“You don’t have to flash the truckers going by, you know. Put your hand in your jeans pocket and run your fingers along your dick, at least.”
It was pretty much impossible to listen to Ziggy talk about masturbation without getting aroused myself, so what my fingers could feel through my pocket was stone hard. “Ziggy.”
“You belong here with me, ” he breathed.
“And you belong here with me,” I countered. “If we’re doing this partner thing for real, then you’re right, I shouldn’t make unilateral decisions about my family crisis. If Claire doesn’t want you involved in the decision-making, I guess I can respect that. She doesn’t know you and she’s afraid you don’t have her best interests at heart. But she’s got no right to come between us just because of that.”
“That’s right.” His breathing was getting faster. “Can you get your fist around yourself or are your jeans too tight for that?”
My jeans were not too tight for a couple of fingers to wrap partway around. “So when can you get here? Or are you going to force me to leave her here with Flip for a guardian?”
“Yeah. Because you don’t sound like you’re doing well, Zig.”
“But for how long?”
“I can go a little while longer before I manufacture some crisis to get your attention.” He moaned again. “Like, maybe a week. Can you last that long without seeing me, though?”
“I hear Flip gives a good blow-job. Should I deputize him to take care of you before I can get there?”
Speaking in long, complicated sentences while masturbating had to be some kind of specialized skill. One I didn’t have. “No. Does that mean you’re coming?”
“No, but I’m very close.”
“I’ll come there if you’ll promise to come back with me. Just for a week.”
“You mean you’ll come here for a week?”
“I mean you come back with me to New York for a week. Carynne made me promise to try to pry you out of there to take care of some things.”
“Some things?” My dick wasn’t the only thing throbbing. My head and my jaw were, too.
“Meetings. Paperwork. Appointments. You’ve been putting off a lot of things.”
“I know. I know.” Oh, god. I didn’t want to think about it. Couldn’t think about it…
“Do we have a deal, then? I’ll come down there for a little while and then I’m bringing you back with me.”
“This is the wrong time to do this.”
“While you’re standing on a rural roadside in the cold? You could be here in my bed with me, warm and–”
“No, I mean, I shouldn’t… make decisions while we’re… talking like this. While we’re doing this.”
“Phone sex is still sex, is that what you mean?”
“And you’re too easy to manipulate while you’re like this?”
“That doesn’t explain your mother, then.”
“And given what you’ve told me about her ability to bend your mind, I have little choice but to bring out the big guns.”
“I miss your big gun. I miss it in my mouth. I–”
I missed whatever the rest of that sentence was because I came so hard I heard static in my ears.
(Folks, I’m sorry to say that we only managed to log 39 top-level comments in the comment challenge, which means we didn’t reach the 50 needed to get a chapter this Saturday! Of course, about $33 in donations would also get us there…? -ctan)