I would swallow my pride,
I would choke on the rinds,
But the lack thereof would leave me empty inside
I would swallow my doubt,
turn it inside out,
find nothing but faith in nothing
Want to put my tender heart in a blender,
watch it spin 'round into a beautiful oblivion…
-- Eve 6, Inside Out
For the third time that week, Rube had given her Mason’s post-it so she could hand it over to him. She’d just taken it without complaint or so much as an eye roll. No point wasting the energy.
Mostly, she got tired of Rube asking her where Mason was lately. She wasn’t Mason’s fuckin’ keeper, or anyone else’s. She could barely keep track of herself sometimes.
Except, she totally was Mason’s keeper, lately.
“Which would be easier if he wasn’t crashing on the fuckin’ eastside,” she yelled at her windshield.
Most of their reaps came in the Seattle/Tukwila/Renton area, no shock there, but it extended out into King County in general. She didn’t know where the reaping-boundaries were, or if they even existed, but there had to be a limit. Shit, there’d been that one guy in downtown Bellevue sitting in his condo when a crane fell over out of nowhere, came right in through his ceiling and landed dead center on his poor dumb ass while he watched TV. Rube had taken that one. What a mess.
Still, they stayed out of the eastside unless it was business. Anything on the eastern shore of Lake Washington was the dreaded eastside. It may as well have been a different country. People should have needed passports to come back and forth. Between the Microsofties, McMansions and mallrats it was grade-A bullshit from there all the way into the Cascades.
The 520 landed her in the middle of Redmond, which was, traffic-wise, an even bigger clusterfuck than Seattle. She was the only one who knew Mason had set himself up in a secluded, aging bi-level on Novelty Hill that had recently been foreclosed. Everything but the water had been shut off, and the bank would take months to do anything about listing it. It was somewhere to hide, if nothing else.
She wasn’t exactly sure how long they’d been sleeping together; the beginning of the whole thing hadn’t been memorable enough to mark as an occasion. It was beyond casual, falling into random fuck-buddy territory. On the physical side, at least. Just a way to pass the time and blow off steam.
She hadn’t marked when Mason had become more than a partly amusing annoyance, either, even though that had more of an impact than the sex. Mason had slowly gravitated toward her as his only consistent and real non-chemical source of comfort, in true Mason fashion, since George tended to be shit at comforting anyone.
Still, all that easily-flustered, stuttering haplessness and vulnerability packaged with mild British outrage got to be endearing when she wasn’t thinking of strangling him. Mason spent most of his time getting in his own way, then managed redemption by standing up for his friends. Sometimes that meant killing Daisy’s creepy boyfriends, but, whatever.
George sighed as she missed the turn onto Novelty Hill for the third time. She was having a bitch of a time concentrating. She needed to still be sitting in Der Waffle Haus mainlining coffee on a Sunday morning, not chasing Mason.
They were not a couple. They didn’t want to be a couple. Mason was probably going to moon over Daisy long after either of them got their Lights, which was stupid by George’s estimation, but it was how things were. There was no competition. That was for the living.
The long, winding drive up to Mason’s new digs was overhung with cedars that had somehow avoided being taken down in the last windstorm. The windows looked forbidding without any curtains or blinds, like lidless eyes just staring out and reflecting the yard. The siding was the same messed up shade of beige and mauve that seemed to be status quo on the eastside, too, but at least it wasn’t shaped like a box. It had a few extra corners and some character. It was just some mid-sized family home that escaped being stuck in a cul-de-sac.
She walked up a set of cement steps and pounded on the door, then leaned in and listened for any sound or movement. When there was nothing, she pounded on the door again. “Mason!”
He hadn’t been wandering nearly as much as he usually did, so she was fairly sure he was home. He’d been in some sort of funk, quiet and un-jittery and just not Mason. He wasn’t showing up for the morning meetings because he was on something 24/7, lately, and it wasn’t like it could kill him but it was getting to be exasperating and it worried George.
George didn’t worry. Worrying was a waste of time when you were dead.
She’d been leaving him to it, to work it out, since that was what Mason usually did. Mason bounced. And George was comfortable in maintaining her mildly introspective cynicism. Deviating from that, breaking her role, might goof Mason up a little more for all she knew.
She tried the knob. The door was unlocked. That was weird, because being a thief himself meant Mason didn’t like other people stealing his shit and didn’t want to make it easy to do.
It was a bright enough day, but the interior was still dim even with all the windows uncovered; all those damn trees. No wonder the place had foreclosed - the owners had been too depressed from the lack of light to make enough money to keep it.
There was a set of carpeted stairs up into the main living room area, with the doorway to the kitchen immediately across the stairs. The place smelled musty with a hint of Pine-Sol, like someone had made an attempt to clean but no one had aired the place out in too long. Mason wasn’t really an airing-out kind of guy unless it involved his emotional issues and a public place.
“Mason! C’mon, goddamnit, you have a reap. I’ll give you a ride.”
Empty houses had a creepy echo to them like it was about more than just the space or configuration of the walls. Not even warehouses got that level of weirdness.
Cursing under her breath, she began checking room to room. He wasn’t passed out in the tub or lying in the hallway, and he wasn’t in the first two upstairs rooms.
In the master bedroom there was a bunch of empty cans and wrappers, and an old, beaten mattress in the center of the floor with a sleeping bag on it. Tangled up in that was a Mason-shaped form, huddled and still but not like he was sleeping.
She got closer and stared down at him, ready to start yelling again and maybe prod him with a foot for ignoring her. She paused when she realized he had his arms wrapped around his head so he could muffle what she could by then hear were sobs.
She crouched down by his head and patted his shoulder tentatively. “Hey. Um. You okay?”
She grimaced at herself. She really sucked at being there.
Man, she hated it when he cried. There was something so wrong about it. Mason was supposed to complain and be quirky and make smartass remarks at people. He was never supposed to be miserable.
She patted his shoulder again, a little harder, and felt how warm he was, like he’d been crying hard enough and long enough to overheat or something. She brushed at the top of his head with her fingertips. “Shhhh. Hey, c’mon, it’s okay.”
There were empty bottles all over the place - vodka and pills. She didn’t even recognize half the drug names, but if he’d been mixing shit again there was no telling how messed up he was. No wonder he was crying - he could get seriously emo when he was wasted.
She stroked his hair a little more and tried to find something comforting to say. If he hadn’t been crying, she’d more than likely have hit him with the nearest object for just lying around and…taking whatever the hell it was that had him so upset.
Mason pulled one arm away from his face with a wet, tear-filled breath. “Georgie. Oh, Georgie.”
And there it was. That little twinge in her heart. No matter what was wrong, she would try to fix it, or at least get a little revenge on someone, even if Mason had caused his own problem yet again. Someone was going to pay for making Mason unhappy.
Between gasps for breath, there was a tearful recounting of wrongdoing with a voice clogged with snot and misery, overwrought with some serious drugs. Fucking Daisy and her way of just passing someone off and making them feel like they weren’t fit for her to wipe her shoes on. She knew how hard Mason could take that, especially when he was in one of his low spots. She could still make him circle the drain when she needed to take her own insecurities out on someone.
It was supposed to be Rube who handled these things, the dad of the group. It was supposed to be Roxy who handled these things, the mom of the group. George just wanted to be Peanut, the teen who kept breaking the rules and remaking them to fit her own worldview.
Times like these, though, she felt like…
Maybe it was okay to break from her role, just once. Just a little.
She laid on the mattress with Mason and held him, all his scrawny sharp angles and dark broodings, all his loyal puppiness and self destruction, all his inability to take responsibility. She was his for the keeping, even if that didn’t mean love in the strictest sense, and being youngest of them all was no excuse. They all belonged to each other, and beyond that, to death, if she wanted to get really goddamn maudlin. Simple thing was, there wasn’t anyone else. They had to rely on each other. Not just for backup or comfort, but sometimes for an asskicking.
He held her just as hard and cried into her shoulder, too miserable or too wasted to have any self consciousness left, broken down to his standard common denomination: one lonely boy trying to fill the holes he’d drilled himself.
Daisy came home to the house they still shared out of necessity and habit and too much laziness to try and find anywhere else.
All of her belongings were missing.
“Georgia,” she said, the beginnings of a warning surfacing in her clipped, faux-cultured tone.
George went on reading the latest People. “I never told you, but I reaped Ray for you. While he was a Graveling.”
Daisy froze and was staring but George refused to look up.
Scared little girl, throwing up so many fanciful fronts to make it all seem untrue.
George often felt it was just as well she’d died so young, before her own innate cynicism and lack of rose-colored glasses had soured her to life altogether.
“You can have your stuff back when you apologize to Mason, and mean it.”
She told herself that she’d pretty much do the same thing to anyone who hurt Daisy, too. These were her reapers, her new family, and she wasn’t going to make the same mistakes with them that she had with the one she’d been born to.
Still, even after Mason pulled out of his anguished self-exile a week later, she was still finding a reason to hold him while he slept.
You could still grow up while you were dead.
X X X