Blizzard — Chapter 24 by Redsliver* * *
I stood up and waved. Jared, Sam’s father, was a straight-backed white-haired balding man. He seemed younger, or at least stronger, than Peter and Wayne, Alex and Max’s fathers. I could see Sam in his eyes and height. She must’ve taken after her mother otherwise. He nodded. I sat down and he joined me.
“You know why I’m here,” he said.
“You’re here because if you straight up tell Sam she can’t see me, she’ll be banging on my door in five minutes,” I said. “She’s got a healthy amount of ‘Fuck you, you can’t tell me what to do’ in her.”
He studied me for a moment. The waitress came by. He ordered a whiskey sour; that sounded good, so I asked for one as well.
“She gets that from you,” I said.
“Does she?” he dared me.
“Yes. You could’ve hung up in my ear. You needed to talk to me to tell me ‘Fuck off.’”
“Fuck off,” he said. “I never back down from a fight.”
“Neither does Sam, so neither can I.”
“You’re not an idiot,” he said at last. I waited. “You’re using my daughter.”
“No, I’m not,” I said. “I’m not going to explain that other woman who kissed me. I don’t understand why she’s so intent on fucking things up for me, but she’s very good at it.”
“So you pass the buck.” He seemed unsurprised.
“Thank you,” I said to the waitress as she placed our glasses down. I took a sip before I spoke to him again. “No, I was in the wrong. I went to see her. I let her stay involved. My brother told me to take someone that toxic and leave her alone until she died on the vine. I’m the one who can’t leave well enough alone. I walked into the fire; it’s not only the arsonist who got me burned.”
The admission did little to temper the man’s opinion of me. The drink did more.
“I met Sam—”
“Yes, you did a good thing for a pretty girl,” he interrupted. “We’re both men. That’s not a surprise to anyone.”
“That wasn’t a compliment.”
“Yes, it was,” I said. “She pursued me after that night. I told her no. I felt she was too young, too naive, and too inexperienced to seek me out as a partner and not furiously break both of our hearts.”
“She told me that too,” Jared said. “Over and over and over. I’m actually sick of that story.”
“Good. Because in the end, I said yes. I chose to let her in, and I got to be with her, and it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
“A teenager sniffing around an older washed-out… What do you even do?”
“I manage an office of draftsmen at an architecture and engineering consulting firm,” I said.
“Middle management?” he asked scornfully.
“I am,” I agreed. “First competent manager we’ve had. My boss’s job is mine once these results come in. I can’t sit around in the comfort of mediocrity when I have a girl like Sam expecting the best of me. I have to move up to better things.”
“So she’s just a rung on your ladder?”
“She’s rocket fuel,” I said. “Or at least her affection and regard is—I don’t mean I’m going to use her up and leave her behind. Women have always been the prime motivator. You’re well dressed—would you have gone that far if there wasn’t a woman to impress?”
“You’re going to use Sam’s mother as a bargaining chip now?” He put his empty glass on the table. I took a middle sip from mine.
“Maybe, maybe not. I don’t know your home life. Sam hasn’t talked about you,” I answered.
“No, I think she was pressganged into introducing me to you last night,” I said. “When there was even the inkling we would cancel, she jumped right into the current without a word. I didn’t even know you were coming, and then I botched everything.”
“Pressganged?” He gave a wry laugh. “Finish your drink, another one’s coming.”
I didn’t like taking orders, but I let this one slide. The waitress came by and set out our refills. She was chunky and brunette. Faye wouldn’t be looking in on us. She couldn’t make it worse. I was on my own. “Will either of you be getting food? Or is it just the drinks.”
“No food,” he said. “New ones when these are empty.”
“Yes sir,” she said, and nodded. In that moment, I didn’t like him. I got that it was her job to take orders and bring us drinks, but there was something severe and cold in his treatment of her. I don’t know if it was fair. It could all just be overflow from feelings he brought to the bar against me.
“Everything you told me tonight,” he said as he put down the glass, “was honest. Thank you. But there’s more.”
“There is. We’ve only started talking,” I said.
“Continue,” he declared.
“That night, when Sam slipped and fell, she was with two of her friends,” I said. His jaw set harder. “Max is her roommate, and Alex has been Max’s best friend since at least junior high. They were heading to some party; I think they were excited to drink, so when Sam got hurt and I gave them a place to sit out the storm, they still wanted to drink.
“Sam wasn’t the only one who came for me over the next few days. Alex and Max are also interested. Hell, one would’ve been scary enough, but three? I was out of my depth.
“I really wanted them to listen to me. I thought I was helping, saving their friendships, and protecting their hearts. I was too old for them. They needed more mistakes. There were three of them. Women and women go together like oil and water. Most often.”
He growled out an understanding affirmation. He had slung back the second drink in a heartbeat. I slowly sipped mine. I wasn’t worried if he got a drink ahead of me. I’d rather have more wits than fewer.
“You and I know Sam was fighting with her girlfriend yesterday. Alex,” he said.
“I do,” I said. “I know that it’s happened before. I know that when their fight lands in front of me, they make up and push it off as if they’re embarrassed.”
Holding back on the magic was the only concession to dishonesty I would allow. Talking like a stark raving madman wasn’t the way to make a case. “And that’s it up until last night; the rest you know. I can’t imagine that taking Sam from her own choices and friends is going well,” I said. “Even if you did it for reasons I respect.”
“You respect my reasons?” he asked. Another drink came for him.
“I do. She’s a wonderful girl. You should have impossible standards for me or any man,” I said.
“You’d be a hard man to dislike, Gene,” he told me. “Thankfully, I had a running start.”
I smiled at that line, which didn’t help things.
“I want Sam to make up with Alex. She’s had so few friends like Max, but I was right to block her from you,” he said. “However, unless I get her to transfer to a university in another city, you’ll be here for her to run to.”
“That I will.”
“You won’t do the right thing?” he asked.
“The right thing for me is a life that includes Sam,” I said. “I have to handle my shit better. I can’t let that arsonist burn it down. I want Sam in my life, and my door’s open if she comes to be in it.”
“And that’s enough?” he said.
“No, Sam wants me to rescue her. Kick down the door to the tower, defeat the evil wizard who locked her up, and ride off with her happily ever after.” I gestured to him as the wizard. “If I want her, I have to act.”
“And how will you act?” he asked.
“I have no fucking clue,” I said. He gave a genuine laugh, then looked angry at himself for a moment. He turned that anger to me. I put down my second empty glass and he his third.
“These’ll be the last, thank you,” I told the waitress.
“I can drink some more,” he told me as she left.
“Not with me, you can’t,” I said. “I came here for the fight, and I wore myself out. I won’t know if I won until I talk to Sam and see just how angry she is at you.”
“Is ‘more’ better or worse?” he scoffed wryly.
“I honestly don’t know,” I said. “Thank you, for at least sitting down across from me.”
“Of course.” He put down his glass. I waved off him taking out money for the drinks. “When some evil wizard has my daughter locked up in a tower, I have to be the one to kick down the door.”
“Yeah, you definitely set a standard,” I said. He walked out. I stewed over my third drink for a good half-hour.
I returned home to find Max encircled in Alex’s arms, apologizing nonstop but for the hitches in her breath. Alex looked overwhelmed and embarrassed. I stepped over the magic boots, and sat down across from them on the bed.
“How did it go?” Alex asked. Max raised her head.
“Hey Max, give me a hug and then you might want to run to the washroom to fix your face,” I said.
She gave me a hug. Her smile was evil under her puffy eyes. She flicked my ears.
“At your worst, you’re an 11. Go clean up and come back a 13,” I told her and slapped her butt. She frowned, took a few steps, and stopped.
“Out of what?” she asked. I threw a pillow at her.
“You’re in a good mood,” Alex said as Max walked away, clearly mulling over what her denominator was.
“It went better than I figured it would,” I said. “He’s not about to write the script on how I die, but he’ll be standing up to clap if he sees the play.”
“He better throw flowers. You deserve flowers.” Alex smiled wanly.
“I don’t get how three girls can like me like you guys do,” I said. “You know... you’ve never said a bad word about Sam or Max when she wasn’t in the room.”
“Who would do that?” Alex seemed aghast.
“Girls do,” Max said as she returned. She smiled and hopped over the armrest and dropped down, hard, on Alex’s lap. The blonde groaned while Max and I laughed. “Like, all of them. I thought that’s why you hated high school and band?”
“I hated them because no one took anything seriously,” Alex said. “And I felt I had to slack off at some things to fit in, and then I felt bad that I was being a bad kid or disrespecting Mrs Bates.”
Max and I looked at her with pity. I spoke before Alex read into our expressions any number of things she could imagine.
“Clearly your singing and the rest, you’ve worked at. You’re lovely,” I said.
“Well, chorus and ballet and dance classes weren’t at school,” Alex said.”
“God, I hated chorus,” Max said.
“You were in chorus?” I asked with a bright smile.
“I can hit two notes humans can hear,” she said. “But yeah, whenever Alex signed up for something, or I did, we both did. For at least a year.”
“You’re not a bad singer.”
“I’m good enough for a shower in a bomb shelter after nukes have wiped out 99% of humanity,” Max claimed.
“You can handle 96%, I’m sure!” I said. Max grinned. Alex sighed. I caught her eye. “What’s wrong?”
“Sam never makes jokes about herself like this,” Alex said. “I miss her already.”
“Me too,” I said. “Tomorrow, do you guys want to meet my brother?”
The girls lit up.
“Oh my god! Yes!” Alex said. “How much family do you have?”
“Just my parents and my brother,” I said. “A couple dozen cousins across the country, I guess. I haven’t really kept in touch.”
“Wow,” Max said. “I’ve always wanted a big family.”
“I’m not really sure that’s a big family,” I said.
“I’ve got my parents. And dad’s brother, my uncle Aleksander. He’s really, really gay. Flaming,” Alex said, and laughed. “Grandma just says he’s,” and she hunched her shoulders and effected an old witch’s voice, ”‘not a wife-and-kids kind of man’.”
“My brother’s more of a beard-flannel-and-nerd gay. Hardly a flame at all,” I grinned. “I don’t think his boyfriend’ll be around, though, which is why he wants company.” “Yeah, that’s one of the things I like about having Sam and Alex around.” Max was still talking about the big family, and it took Alex and me a moment to catch up. “Like, she’s my sister. Well, ‘sister’ isn’t the best word because now we have sex, but we’re family. And with you and with her and with Sam, we’ve got this great big family.”
“Yeah, it’s just about crazy enough,” I agreed.
“Yeah,” Max said. She sighed. “Your brother’s tomorrow?”
“Absolutely,” I said. “You only have to do one thing for me.”
“Anything,” Alex said. She nodded vigorously. I kept my eyes straight into Max’s.
“You want me to find Sam and make her put the boots on,” she said.
“You should take them to the dorm tonight,” I said.
“I was gonna stay,” Max said.
“Family’s what matters,” I said. “That’s why I did my best with Sam’s father tonight. Will you do this for me?”
“I will,” she said and the wind rocked the house. It took a toll to ignore it, but grinding my teeth helped.
I played with her blond hair; Alex dozed with her head on my chest. I was thinking of Max, worrying that she got home safe. She had dressed, cleaned up, and walked home before I could ask her to wait for me to escort her. I don’t know if I could have made the journey and back after two sweaty hours between two best girlfriends. I hoped Max had got Sam back in the boots.The door banged open. Alex jolted awake.
“Christ! Why’s she fucking here!” Sam stomped onto the tiles at the top of the stairs. “Whatever.”
She grabbed Alex’s coat from a hanger and tossed it onto the table. “I need to talk to my boyfriend. Hit the road, sunshine.”
“Sam, be civil or I’ll send you home,” I said, stroking Alex’s shoulder. I swung my naked bottom half out from under the blankets and onto the floor. “You came straight here from your dad?”
“Once we got tired of fighting with each other, I finally made him drop me off at the dorms. Like I was going to go to class from a hotel! He never admits it when he’s in the wrong! Then, I ran here the moment he pulled out of the parking lot.” She crossed her arms.
“Alex, she hasn’t seen Max yet,” I said. “If you’d get dressed, I’ll call you a cab to send you to your dorms.”
“I can’t stay?” she fretted. I stroked her hair. “No, you’re right. I’ll go.”
She walked naked in front of Sam to collect her clothes from their folded place on top of my sex toys shelf. “I miss you, Sam. I hope you love me tomorrow.”
Sam kept her words to herself. She had her arms and legs crossed. She closed her eyes, looking serene: eye contact made her grumpy, and she was doing her best to be civil. I kissed Alex at the door to the cab. I ghosted Winter as she sipped from a mug in her doorway.
Sam hit me like a runaway train when we were alone. I hugged her.
“I don’t want to be all grumpy and mean and gah!” she cried out in frustration. “I want to like Alex the way I always liked Alex. Her eyes are just… gah!”
“Her eyes?” I asked. Was there more to this than—
“Or her tits, or her ass, or her smile, or her hair. Her pretty!” Sam felt limp in my arms. I kissed some hardness into her spine. She looked on the verge of tears. “Thank you for talking to dad.”
“Yeah, I was terrified,” I laughed.
“Of Dad? He’s a teddy bear.”
“Yeah, and what do bears do when their cubs are threatened?”
“Oh,” she laughed back. “Yeah, that’s more mama bears, but it’s a good metaphor.”
“When she’s not here, you calm down about her?”
“No.” Sam frowned. “No, I just don’t want to upset you. I know you’d be happier with me if Alex and I were getting along.”
“I’m not unhappy with you,” I said. “I don’t think you’ve done anything wrong.”
She let me lead her by the hand. She looked at my bed. “Can we talk for a bit first? I don’t really want to jump into bed just because my dad got me wound up.”
“Really?” I smiled. “I thought daddy issues were the big driver of female sexuality.”
“Gross,” she said, then frowned and tilted her head. “No, I think the girls you’re thinking of are the girls whose dads didn’t give a shit. Thinking back on the mean sluts I’ve known.”
“And the friendly sluts?” I smirked.
“They were just friendly with everyone,” she said. “And never as gross or as petty, I think.”
“I don’t want to talk to you about other women,” I said. I held both of her hands. She pulled me away from my armchair. I shrugged, sat her on the end of my coffee table and settled down into my computer chair.
“I want to talk about other women,” she said. I waited. I expected her to mention Winter, and the kiss that set her dad off. “How do we do this long-term? Me, you, and Max. And Alex.”
“I don’t know how we do this next week,” I said. “I’m not known for successful relationships.”
“Yeah,” she laughed. “I’d ask Dad. He and Mom got together at 20 and have been together ever since. He doesn’t want to give me good advice to use on you, though. Mom’s always talking about how romance and love gets you through, but clearly there’s also hard work to do.”
“Yeah,” I said. “Little things add up, so you can’t keep quiet on the things that get to you. You don’t want to be a nag either, so you’ve got to learn how to criticize and fight without going for the throat. It’ll be a journey for us all.”
“OK,” she said. “There is one little thing.”
“Name it,” I said. I projected confidence, but I was expecting to hear “Alex”.
“A bigger apartment.” She looked around and gestured at my home for the past three years. “This place is…” She visibly hesitated. “It’s tiny. I was going to say ‘cozy’, but that’s a bullshit real-estate euphemism.”
I laughed. She tilted her head. “Yeah, I’ve started looking. I’m thinking a few bedrooms and a better neighborhood.”
“And better neighbors.”
I had been worried moments ago. Her lack of hostility had blindsided me. I stood up, brushed back my hair with both hands. I squatted down in front of her.
“I’m sorry about letting Winter get to me and fuck things up with your Dad. I’m sorry I went and poked the hornet’s nest when I should have been working on what we can do together,” I said. She leaned in and kissed me.
“You’re forgiven,” she said. “Dad’ll get over it, or he’ll get Alzheimer’s in forty years.”
That was dark. “If you get the boots from Max, you can come join us and meet my brother tomorrow night.”
“I have to do the work too,” she said. “I’ll do it. Can I talk to you about the girl-girl stuff?”
“Of course.” I brushed her hair back. “I’m not forcing you to—”
“I might be a little gay,” she said. She looked away twice, then met my gaze. “A lot gay.”
She took a deep breath. Everything I knew of Sam ran through my mind, suddenly making sense.
Her big vulnerable eyes filled with heat. Her quiet voice grew husky. “I mean, I see you and I want to tear into you like a werewolf—
“I like the simile.”
“—but I always only ever wanted girls to ask me out. But only boys ever did,” she said. “Is that OK?” She squeezed her fists, but couldn’t keep her shoulders from trembling.
“Being who you are is very OK,” I said.
“Max goes along with whatever you say. She’ll do it. I’ll want it. Will she want it? Will she want our first time? Or will she want to make you happy? I wanna be happy. I want her to make me happy. I want to make her happy.“
“That would make me happy,” I said. She grabbed my hand.
“Gene, I’m sorry, I wasn’t finished.” She looked at me and I nodded. “This is about my first time. I know I had a first time with you. That’s not what I mean. This is about me and a girl. I wanted to be Max’s first. I wanted Max to be my first. I wanted her to want me. And... I still do.“
Her voice broke.
I stepped forward to hug her. A tear formed in her eye. She hugged me back, then covered her face and stepped out of my arms. She growled in frustration. She was volatile energy building up near to bursting.
“Can I ask you something that’s maybe really stupid?”
“You always can. I love you.”
“So, these girls who you were always hoping would ask you out… these were actual real girls, not hypothetical ones? Girls you knew?”
“Why didn’t you ask any of them out?”
She took a deep breath. “I… I don’t wanna pursue. I don’t wanna be the one who makes those decisions, I don’t wanna be the active one, if that makes sense.”
“You want to be wanted. For someone to be attracted to you and make a move on it. That’s the only time you feel as gorgeous as you look.”
“Yeah. And I’m not—....oh!”
I wrapped her in my arms and rubbed her shoulders.
She struggled for a smile. “I don’t really wanna ask for it. I want her to know.”
“Now I’m beginning to see why you started this game of telephone,” I said, smiling and remembering Max’s confession.
Her eyes went wide. She pulled herself away from me; her skin was a bright embarrassed pink.
“You’re going to tell Max?!” She started pacing. “Oh my god! I’d be mortified.”
“You like her. She likes you. You’ve already had sex with her.”
“Yes, but with you involved! I mean, just her and me!”
“OK, I’m sorry. But you’d be mortified if she knew how to make love to you?”
“Make love!” she squealed. “Oh crap! I mean, you’re being too reasonable! I mean... I can’t.”
She paced faster. I reached for her hand and she twisted away. Then she was hopping and doing her best to dodge apologies. I stood so the next time she turned she collided with my chest. I grabbed her upper right arm and her left hip.
“Sam,” I declared. “If it’s that important to you, I won’t tell Max.”
But I wanted her to be happy and it wasn’t only Max who wanted Sam. If Sam wanted to be pursued, I didn’t have to tell Max. Alex’d play matchmaker as intensely as she did everything else. The brunette in my arms loosened. Her smile broadened and then disappeared. She looked confused with herself. I lowered. Sat down across from her and took her hands and set them on her knees.
“Maybe you could tell Alex, and then she tells Max?” she said with a smile. I laughed. She tilted her head. “What?”
“That’s what I—Oh… Shit…”
I trailed off.
My heart stopped as I realized:
I had set Sam in my armchair.
Faye had said Sam was the better choice to put on the throne, hadn’t she? Fuck me. Something else was about to go wrong.