Spoilers: Night Five
Summary: and honey please don't stop / your talking / 'cause there's a feeling / won't leave me alone / - David Gray
Thanks: to Abigale, for assuring me that a change in tone and style can be a good thing. And for WeevilRob!, of course. Because, squee!
Nightblindness by Amerella
There's this painting hung up over the bar Josh has been trying to figure out for the past half an hour, and then this guy with hair so blonde it's pink, really, plunks himself down on the stool next to him and he looks nice enough. And so Josh waves his hand in the general direction of the thing, and asks, "What the hell is that supposed to be?"
Pink Hair looks kind of far away, but amused, and he says, "It's abstract, dude. It's whatever you want it to be."
When Pink Hair moves in line with the window, the moonlight spills over everything, and makes him look even pinker. "Well, I don't see anything," Josh says, and thinks that Pink Hair could be fun. He gets up and lurches off towards the pay phone in the corner because he's not stupid.
"Are you stupid?" Toby wants to know. "Is there, there's something wrong with you, Josh."
"Not so much as I'm really, uh, needing you to come get me." His elbow is itchy. He tries to scratch it, and bangs his arm up against the wall in the process. "Sam, actually. Can Sam come get me?" Toby's quiet. Josh shakes the receiver as if that will help. All it does is make him knock his arm up against the wall again. "I'm, I have no cab fare, Toby. And it's raining. And there's this guy, and he has pink hair. He's abstract." Josh thinks about that. "No. That's not--"
He waits outside under the funeral canopy of this big palm tree that's sticking up through the pavement, and raindrops drip fatly from all that quiet green. "Where's Sam?" he wants to know a few minutes later, locked in the confines of a big hulk of a rental car with dead leaves clinging to the windshield.
Toby's eyes kind of flit past him. "I'm picking you up," he says flatly, and Josh decides that's just fine, really. He and Sam aren't talking or fucking or making eye contact or anything lately, and they've never done very well with each other in California anyway.
His stomach won't stop growling; he's hungry for something. All they had back at the bar were those peanuts that come in the little yellowish packets, and Josh doesn't like peanuts. He doesn't like beer much either, but that's a whole different thing. "Can we, is there anything to eat, back at the motel?"
"You shouldn't--" Toby's countenance darkens. "You know what? Yeah. There's, uh, maraschino cherries, and pretzels, and those cheese crackers that nobody likes." He keeps checking the shoulder, like he's expecting something.
Josh attempts to twist completely around in his seat. "What are you looking for? I don't see anything."
The seatbelt bites into his jugular, making him wince.
Toby tells him he should go to bed, and he sounds like somebody's father, but not Josh's father. And so Josh sits on the floor instead, one knee up, sucking on cherries from the mini-bar and trying to catch a glimpse of the moon through the curtains.
There's nothing on television except for this swimsuit thing. The women all look trashy, and the music's trashy too; elevator music. But Josh likes trashy music, and so he listens, sort of, and he watches the window, and after awhile the moon shimmers into view, milky and not quite round. And it makes him sad, like the little purple flowers Donna grows on her kitchen windowsill that peek out at him whenever he's walking past them.
It makes him sad and he hadn't been expecting that. But then, he never is.
Electricity chases its tail in the hallway. A thousand tiny knives behind his eyes, and he dry scrubs his face and leans up against Sam's doorframe, and says, "It's me."
Sam opens up and then he just looks at Josh for a few seconds before he lets him in, like he's making sure he is who he says he is. "Yeah. I'm, uh—"
"What are you doing?"
"--writing." Sam's hair looks spiky, and Josh thinks about the guy back at the bar, and the pink is parrot-bright in his mind.
Sam climbs back up on his narrow bed, with his laptop and all his papers, and somehow he doesn't knock anything onto the floor.
"Ah. I was, I think I'm still a little bit drunk, here." Josh blinks down at the ugly maroon carpet. "Hey. Why didn't you come and get me? Before?"
"I was writing, Josh." Sam doesn't sound angry, but sometimes you can't tell with Sam. It doesn't matter, because Josh knows he doesn't want to do this.
He wants Sam to stop writing. They can sit on the floor together and eat cherries and look at trashy women and listen to trashy music, and maybe do something else. The moon won't be distracting because Sam has the blinds down, and the curtains drawn.
Josh kicks at the edge of the bed lightly, and he thinks that there's nothing in this room that isn't artificial except for Sam. Josh doesn't even feel very real.
But here's Sam, and he's got his writing pad lying on his lap, and he's stabbing a period with flourish. And he's saying, "You're kicking the bed."
Josh thinks about not stopping, but then he does. "Sam, I gotta, I think I gotta talk to you." He perches on the edge of the mattress, and he's careful, but a few papers still slide off of the slick polyester blanket and onto the floor. Sam doesn't seem to mind that, though, and he takes his glasses off and looks all worried, and Josh can't stand it and so he says, "You know how Donna's always giving me advice about women?"
"Yeah. And, listen, today, we were talking about something else entirely. And, apropos of nothing, she was sitting there stealing my french fries, and she was all like, 'You know what I think you have to do now? I think you have to break up with her'."
Sam glances back at his laptop. "Well, how's she doing with you being away so much? I mean, it's going to get, there's going to be a lot more-- with the distance."
With the distance. Josh runs that phrase through his head a few times. He likes how Sam words things, sometimes. With the distance. He smiles, and then he remembers what they're talking about, and he stops. "Amy's good. We're good."
"Good." Sam slowly starts putting his papers in a pile, pages and pages of his tiny bird-scratch handwriting. Josh wonders if Sam just doesn't feel like looking at him anymore; if Sam's giving up on him after everything just because he was kicking the bed while Sam was trying to write.
Josh used to have this dream, all the time. Joanie was there, and so was he, but she couldn't see him, or something. "Josh?" She'd always be trying to find him, and he'd always grab her hand, hard. Hear the bones crack, hers or his. "Josh?" she'd keep asking. This crackly voice, because he was forgetting the way she sounded, already.
He woke up one night and it was too much. He made a fist; heard the bones crack. His.
Sometimes, he gives up on himself.
Josh's throat gets kind of tight, and he swallows and swallows, but the feeling doesn't go away. This is supposed to be the part where he reaches for Sam's belt buckle, or the part where he leaves, but he can't make the choice, and he shouldn't want to. So, he sits there.
And then Sam's leaning over, and Sam's tongue is in his mouth, and Sam's fingers are plying buttons open, but nothing gets very far because then Sam's pushing him away, and he's shifting the papers around again, and not looking up.
"I should go," Josh says needlessly. Fixing his shirt with fingers that fumble unaccountably before he re-enters the hallway. He's left the TV on, and the trashy music is still playing back in his room. The moon has changed position.
They were in the same circles and then they weren't, but Sam was always there anyway.
They talked politics and invariably ended up in a tangle of limbs, until Josh started wondering if those were the only two things in the world; politics and that not-quite-perfect thing they shared. And then there was something else, and Sam said he had to go. "Why?"
"It's, it's an opportunity. My father thinks--"
Gage Whitney did sound like an opportunity, and Sam's father agreed, and Josh agreed because--
Because he knew his own father would say that there were more important things in life, and that there would be more opportunities. There always are.
Because they ended up back at his place again since Josh wasn't his father; since Josh wouldn't ever be able to articulate something like that.
Sam called him, once. The reception was bad, and it was the middle of the night. "I just wanted to talk to you. We haven't talked for-- and I just wanted to talk to you," he said.
A few months before Josh began to forget the sound of this other person's voice.
"They're African violets," Donna says, hopping up to sit on the counter in front of him, and ashing a cigarette that isn't hers in the sink. "You'd kill them," she continues. Josh thinks the flowers look kind of scraggly already, all faded purple and sombre little leaves, but he shrugs because she's right.
The Roommate blows into the room. Her name's Kathleen, he thinks, but Donna's always shortening her name up into all of these different things, and he can't be sure she isn't a Karen or something, and so she's The Roommate. The Roommate says "Hey, Josh," and takes a long drag on the cigarette Donna hands her. "I have a date," she announces, and Josh assumes Donna already knows that, and he's supposed to say something now.
The Roommate laughs, but it's a bit high and strained, and Donna puts her leg out and nudges the other woman's hip with her toes. "You look good. The boots look good." The boots look like a bit like go- go boots, actually, and Josh doesn't think Donna would ever wear boots that looked like that.
"She's going out to a club, Josh," Donna informs him once The Roommate's gone, and he doesn't even get a chance to say anything. "Not to, like, The Four Seasons." She points at him and he thinks about how he doesn't like having to look up at her. "You know, you know what you are?"
"Someone who isn't good with plants, yet happens to have loads of enigmatic charm, and, uh, other things?"
"You're a suit." She smiles, pleased with herself. "And you're not very enigmatic."
"I'm plenty enigmatic," Josh squawks.
Donna's swinging her legs, like she's sitting on a dock somewhere. But her heels keep thudding up against the cabinets, and the sound is distracting him. Then she says, "They're my boots. She's just, she's borrowing them." And she's making that face she makes, like she thinks he's going to be disappointed in her.
It's all choking dryness and blaring eighties music back in the taxi, and Josh notices that the driver's hands are creased, the skin paper- thin. Attached to muscular forearms, they are a misplaced portion of anatomy.
He thinks he's still stuck somewhere between time zones. He doesn't think alcohol will fix that, but then again, it might.
The woman at the bar has a voice like Billie Holiday. She's wearing this little black dress, and she flicks her hair at him as she covers "Everything Happens to Me". It's cute, but he just wants to sit there.
"I couldn't even get drunk," Josh says at Sam's apartment. "Billie Holiday was singing. Well, of course she herself wasn't-- This woman was singing, and she sounded like Billie Holiday, and--"
Sam blinks at him sceptically. "So, what, you're-- sober?"
"Yes. Well, no."
"Okay," Sam says.
"I'm mostly sober," Josh claims, fingers pressed up against the wall. "I'm-- she sounded nice, you know? I didn't want to fall down on my face in front of her. That's all."
"And it's okay to fall down on your face in front of me?"
Josh thinks so, but he doesn't want to say the word. Billie Holiday sang, "i fell in love just once, and then it had to be with you," and that was when he'd stumbled out onto the sidewalk beneath a flat black sky.
"Josh. I really wish you wouldn't come over here when you're like this."
He's jolted back to the present, and Sam looks watered down, washed out, and he's looking at Josh.
"But, for now?" Josh asks, and his voice squeaks a little on the "now".
"For now." Sam shrugs a one shouldered shrug, and then he's making the face that Donna makes, "But, Josh--"
Josh goes over to the sofa and tosses himself down because he can't stand for Sam to look that way. "Yeah?"
"I'm, you know what, I'm working on this thing for Toby. And you know where everything is." And then he's gone. Josh turns his head and looks for the moon out the window, but it's nowhere to be found.
After awhile, he gets tired of looking.
And so he makes his way down the hallway, squinting in the darkness. Sam's curled up sleepy-small in the middle of his bed, and Josh is suddenly and desperately apologetic when eyelids tremble, and then open. Sam sits up, and yawns into the crook of his arm, and doesn't say anything. "I thought you were working," Josh manages finally, inadequately.
He really wants to leave now, but he wouldn't feel right just coming in here and waking Sam up, and so he takes a few steps forward. Is still half thinking about turning right back around, but then Sam scoots over, and that gives Josh some room to sit down and study his hands.
"I don't know what the hell's going on with you lately, Sam," Josh says, slowly. "And, I should, I've been thinking, I owe you an apology."
"Can we, like, not? Do you know what time it is?"
Josh doesn't. He watches his palm curl up into a fist, and he wants to tell Sam that even when he forgot the way his voice sounded, he didn't forget anything else.
"Josh. There are all of these long hours, and I know that you and Amy are having some problems, okay? And then there's this thing with Donna, with the job offer, and you're here, so, can we not?"
"Sam, it's not like that."
Sam's hand goes to the back of his neck. "Yeah."
"It's not like that," Josh insists. "I, uh, please, I love you. I love you," he says, and Sam looks like he's heard that a few too many times. "I'm sorry." And Sam's heard that one a few too many times too, but Josh doesn't know what else he can say. He doesn't have anything else to give.
"I'm sure Donna's not going anywhere," Sam says, and it's out of nowhere.
"You, you think so?" Cautiously.
"I think we're--" Sam pauses and moves his legs a little further away from Josh's. "I think we're doing these jobs better than we've done anything in our lives, and better than anything we'll ever do. I think something like that is hard to walk away from."
Josh feels something begin to unclench in his chest, a little. "She and I, we never really talked about it. I thought it was just one of those things. She gets these things in her head sometimes." His chest gets tight again, and he's sure he shouldn't have said that.
"I said it would be hard, Josh. But anyone can walk away from anything. From anything."
Sam's eyes look all big and wet, and Josh slides his arms around his shoulders before he even thinks about it. "Aw, Sam, I know," he says gently.
"No. You don't know. You didn't." Sam's lips are thin and white, and he's angry; angry at Josh. But he leans into his touch anyway, and they stay like that for a long time.
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