A Record Year for Rainfall, Chapter 8
A Record Year for Rainfall is my second book, originally published in 2011.
Please note that the subject matter in this novel can be pretty graphic.
Jenny fell in her mind, through the floor, through forever. She stood still. Nobody noticed where her mind had gone. She looked at her watch to see if it had slowed, but it hadn’t. Her mind marked the moment. Reggie took questions in the background on the giant televisions. Nothing moved slower, but Jenny didn’t know what to think anymore. What the fuck had just happened?
Jenny left the store half embarrassed to have stayed so long. She felt so guilty she bought a pair of headphones she had no plans to use. She floated through the rest of the Ceasar’s mall. She had known about Reggie and his condition. She could have broken this news years ago. She was in on the private meetings. The people around her, if they’d knew, they’d hate her. They’d throw things. They would see her as a villain. She figured Reggie wouldn’t mention anymore on his staff by name, but then again, it was public knowledge. People would figure it out. People look things up. Jenny found a ludicrously expensive clothing store and shuttered herself in a change room with a red dress she grabbed from a rack without checking the size. The hung the dress and sat, leaning against the wall. This wasn’t about her, she whispered. She felt the need to repeat it a few times. Reggie would be kicked out of the republicans for this, for sure. But he would have known that. It wasn’t about her, but she was feeling every decision as if it was.
She thought about that son of a bitch Album, and how this was really all his fault. He’d turned Bret against her. For all she knew, Bret hadn’t seen this. Maybe she could talk to him, maybe commiserate. It may have been all over, but he was the only person she shared this with. She breathed normally, and fished for her phone.
# # #
Bret watched the speech, and was fucking glued. It was the first time in his entire life he wasn’t punished for affecting another persons’ life. He had no name for the emotion he was feeling, so he rounded down to relief. The speech itself was something else, but the q&a afterwards was truly revealing. Fane went on to explain how long he’d been gay (his whole life), why he buckled to societal demands, if he was going to hell, what’s going to happen to his marriage (it’s over), and whether or not he knows what he’s doing is an abominable sin (he’s well aware). He said he plans to spread awareness and lend a hand to the burgeoning gay community. To Bret, it was like watching the moon landing. It was impossible, but there it was. In Bret’s lifetime, no politician had ever spoken like this. At least, that’s what he figured. Bret blinked. How many politicians did he know? He never really cared about this stuff. Maybe they were all like this. But then, the woman on CNN reporting the story wouldn’t have called it “crazy historic, y’all.” Maybe there was someone, but certainly nobody in Bret’s periphery. How many assholes had grown a pair and owned up in front of everyone like Fane? In the 80s, 90s, and this broken decade, public figures were sheepish, cowardly, or a stereotype of acceptable behavior; the bold cowboy, the altruistic businessman, the cold, independent woman. We can love money and success, but never each other. We can aspire to greatness, but never pleasure. And here comes Reggie fucking Fane, the man Bret struck down with the only weapon more powerful than money or bombs, and he not only does the right thing by nailing himself to the wall but goes a mile further, effectively ending an era and changing the conversation. Bret had absolutely no idea what to think of this.
He dressed and hit the street, packing his favorite camera. It was going to be a gesture of surrender. He liked this thing. It felt more solid in his hands than any remote control or steering wheel. The extended focus lens gave it more heft, but more bulk, and there was really no comfortable way to carry it except around his neck like an amateur journalist. He always hated the feeling of bulk plastic against his chest, but at least he wouldn’t have to do it much longer. He was going to find Album, and he was going to hand in his badge.
The revelation hit him the way they always did, quietly, then suddenly, in the night, with no warning. He didn’t care if the governor was cool with his new open gay life, but the speech itself moved something in Bret. He felt solidified. Bret needed out.
He checked his cell phone. No messages. No jobs. He had no idea how Album was feeling. Knowing Album, he was drunk already, enjoying some kind of sick victory. No doubt Album was taking it as such. Or maybe he was just high, sitting half naked in a ditch, spewing bullshit philosophies to whoever doddered by. Album was a weird guy.
Album was high, half naked, and well on his way to being drunk, too. It was noon, and as drove past the Flamingo, he felt like celebrating like a champion. Album found the phone in his back pocket of a pair of sweat pants strewn over a chair, and began to liberally speed-dial together a party.
“Hi,” Bret said on the other end.
“Pizzane!” Album proclaimed. “My hero! My guest of sparkling, pissing honor!”
“Listen,” Bret said. “Where the hell are you? Where have you been?”
”I’m on my way home to organize a party and order some hookers. You there?”
“I just left. Look, we’ve got to talk, preferably sans hookers,” Bret said. “I have a lot to talk about.”
Album stopped smiling. He was afraid of this. He had the slightest inkling Bret might have taken Reggie’s admission differently than he should have. Album hadn’t properly formulated a plan, so he stalled.
“Dude, I’m actually super fucking busy right now.”
“Bullshit, you were just about to invite me to some big party.”
Album paced. “Yeah, yeah, but not until tonight. You don’t want to be over there right now. It reeks of piss and pot and cum.”
”Actually, I spent the morning cleaning the place. It reeks of water lilies and pot and cum now.”
“What?” Album yelled. “Why would you clean my place? What kind of faggy Canadian gesture is that?”
“Truly, we live in a different time now,” Bret said.
Album stalled. “Look, I’ll be home in like an hour or so. Go grab some beer and I’ll meet you.”
# # #
Bret stalked toward the parking lot across from his apartment. It was an old habit from an old paranoid hang-up, but Bret never parked in the same place twice. He crossed the street, and as he entered the car park, he was blindsided, shoved from the side into a black SUV. The blow set off the alarm. His assailant stepped back, and gave Bret room to breath, room to see who he was. Bret’s right arm held his sore left, and saw the camera man, standing cocky.
The camera man must not have seen retaliation as one of Bret’s options, or else he would have tried to block Bret’s right hook, which landed just high of his left temple. The camera man buckled and stepped back, almost down to one knee. But then he was up, faster than Bret thought. But Bret caught him again, a better shot, a cartoon boxing punch straight down the middle of camera man’s face. This time it was Bret who stepped back, and spoke.
“Who are you?” Bret demanded.
The camera man wiped his nose, checking for blood. He said nothing, but took out a small camera the size of a cell phone from his jeans. He aimed and took a picture.
“What,” Bret screamed. “Is your fucking problem?”
The camera man chuckled low, and turned to leave.
“Oh no,” Bret said. “No. I’m so fucking sick of this.”
Bret charged him, knocking him against a sedan. Another alarm went off. Bret’s shoulder planted into the camera man’s ribs. Bret rammed him against the car several times. Finally, the camera man fought back, dropping his elbow against Bret’s back.
The scrimmage went back and forth longer than Bret or even the camera man likely wanted. Neither of them were real fighters, and the shots Bret made were his first since high school. He felt he could have been stronger, could have hit harder. He should have practiced, but who expects to be jumped? Who expects to be stalked and photographed? You can’t prepare for this shit. All you can do is swing and hope you’ve got something behind it. All you can do is react.
Exhaustion began to set in Bret before surrender, and he found himself wondering if maybe walking away was the best answer. He backed off, caught his breath, and saw his favorite camera on the ground where it had dropped when he’d been shoved the first time. He reached for it, stretched his arm, feeling sure the camera man would lunge at him or shoot him or something. But he didn’t. He stood there and waited for Bret to pick up his bruised weapon. The camera man did nothing.
Tired and in a hard day’s amount of pain, Bret gave the camera man a long look of confusion and pity and submission, and turned to walk away.
Bret stole only a handful of peaceful steps before he heard the sound of asphalt against the camera man’s heels, coming fast. Bret barely turned around in time, but he did. The camera levelled against the side of his nemesis’ face. Bret heard a sound he’d never heard before, something in between a car crash and a balloon pop. Bret’s camera fell in three pieces, maybe four. The camera man’s face stayed relatively intact. Both fell hard.
Bret stepped back like he’d just cut the blue wire. He wasn’t sure what kind of damage a hulking digital camera could do when used as a weapon. He’d never thought to calculate such a thing.
It took Bret a few seconds to realize the camera man wasn’t going to get back up. Bret knelt next to him and hesitantly checked the unconscious man’s pulse. Bret smiled. He hadn’t killed him. Nothing that a couple days of xbox couldn’t cure.
# # #
Bret heard a gun cock right behind him. The cop, a strong, deep-voiced guy with a thick goatee told Bret to keep his hands up.
“Holy shit,” Bret said. “How long have you been here?”
“Whole time,” the cop said, pulling Bret’s hands behind him and feeling out for his cuffs. “That was quite a dust up.”
The cop put Bret in his car, told him to stay still, and went back for the camera man. But the camera man was already gone.
“Son of a bitch!” Bret could hear from the back seat. The officer came back in.
“Fucker was playing possum,” he said.
Bret replied, “I’m not surprised.”
“You two punks know each other?”
“You could say that,” Bret said. “I don’t know his name. I never quite understood what he wanted with me.”
“You get that in this town,” The cop said.
“Why didn’t you just arrest us before we knocked each other loopy?”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I’m short my quota this month and wanted to bring you both in myself. I figured it’d be easier to round you up if you were already busted.”
Bret, for whatever reason, was understanding. Even though he knew getting fingerprinted would get him a quick trip back across the border, it was where he was heading anyway. He used to be so worried about the police, but he didn’t have anything here, anymore.
“Fine,” Bret said. “Process me. But can you be nice about it at least? I’m Canadian.”
“What did you say?”
Bret wasn’t sure why he said that. Maybe it was something he’d always wanted to say.
“I’m from Vancouver,” Bret quipped.
The cop extended his hand, then rescinded once he realized Bret was still in handcuffs and there was a steel grate between them.
“I’m from Spokane,” The cop said. “Me and my buddies used to cross the border all the time to get fucked up. Vancouver was always so nice.”
The cop pulled Bret out of the car and took off the cuffs. “Shit, I can’t hardly arrest you if there’s no proof you beat up anybody. Something tells me that guy ain’t squeeling.”
“Probably not,” Bret said.
“Straight out of a Dick Tracy novel or something.”
“I don’t know who that is,” Bret said. “But thanks for this. You’re probably the nicest guy I’ve met in America.”
After the cop left Bret next to his car, he wasn’t sure if any of it had really happened. Had he really charmed his way out of an arrest? His face hurt. He didn’t know what the hell to think anymore. Which is why this was the worst possible time for Jenny to call.
# # #
Album hung up the phone and immediately dialed more numbers. Tess said “Hello,” from the other end.
“How’s my favorite ski bunny?” Album asked.
“Album,” Tess said. “I’ve told you this six times. I’ve never skied before. I don’t even like the cold. It only ever went down to five degrees where I’m from, and it almost never snowed..”
“No human can survive five degrees, woman.”
Tess laughed. “Celsius, plebeian. We won the war.”
“We burned down your government building. Canadians are the reason you have a white house.”
“I thought that was the British.”
“We were British, hick. Sort of, anyway.”
“Whatever love, I’m inviting you out.”
“Because I won. I won a million lotteries. I beat not only that fag politician, I beat the major news agencies, I beat everyone. I’m the king of today, and the king plans on eating out.”
Tess sighed, her fingers itching to curl a phone cord that hadn’t been there for years. “You know that tomorrow you’re going to go back to being a pumpkin, right?”
“All the more reason to make it count. Why all the hate? I remember us being pretty close once upon a time.”
“Album, this whole thing has really torn Bret apart. Don’t pretend you haven’t noticed. You can’t expect me not to have mixed feelings toward the devil on his shoulder.”
“I don’t recall you being that far from that shoulder yourself. You gave him the same advice, remember?”
“Yeah, but that’s been kind of eating at me too. I feel like two people, and I don’t like either of them. You seem to be the only happy person around these days.”
Album wasn’t expecting this, but he had a canned response anyway.
“Tess, baby, we were right. That fag’s life, even though, hell, especially because we fucked with it, is going to be better. You saw the speech this morning. He basically thanked us.”
“I suppose that’s one insanely egotistical way of looking at it.”
“Tell you what,” Album said. “Let’s just do this tonight. Take a small shred of pride in my public service, and then tomorrow you can go back to hating me and everything I represent.”
Tess had nothing else, so she said, “I’ll put serious stock into thinking about it.”
# # #
Bret didn’t know why he always rushed to be with Jenny, but he had. He chalked it up to her being the one, but why was he still doing it? Why was she still the only phone number he had memorized? What was wrong with him?
He knocked on her door. It used to be his door, too. He used to have a key. His face and ribs still hurt a little, but he wasn’t mad. He was mostly confused as to why she wanted to talk and why he hadn’t taken a cab to a hospital.
“Hey Bret,” she said, hugging him. He winced. “Thank you for coming on such short…Oh my God, are you bleeding?”
“Maybe,” he said. “There’s a possibility. I didn’t really check.”
“Let me take care of that,” Jenny said, souring her face and pulling him into the bathroom by the entrance. “Come in here.”
She put a damp washcloth to his forehead, and he looked down at her and she looked back at him and he only got more confused. The last time he saw her, she was in the hospital, but she wasn’t vulnerable. She’d kicked him out, and Fane had been there. He wasn’t vulnerable then, either. It really wasn’t that long ago, but everything was different.
“There,” Jenny said. “Feel any better?”
“I don’t know,” Bret said. “Do you?”
“What a cryptic question. What the hell happened?”
“Oh, nothing. I feel up some stairs.”
“How do you? Never mind. If you don’t want to tell me, that’s fine. Some girl probably punched you for snapping a shot or something. And you probably deserved it.”
“Thanks,” Bret said. “It’s been a while since you’ve insulted me.”
Jenny straightened up. “Come,” she said. They sat down on her couch, the one she’d bought two months into the relationship that she wouldn’t let him pitch in for.
“We need to talk,” she said.
That sentence, Bret knew, was never a good thing. It meant the end of a job or a relationship. There was never a situation where it ended well. But this relationship was already over. He’d already been brought into the cold office to be let go without warning. And there had been no legal hangups keeping them together. Unless she was planning on drugging him and selling his organs and she was asking for permission, he really didn’t know what to worry about.
“I think you may have been right,” she said. “And I might have been wrong.”
“What do you think, Bret? Reggie.”
“You saw this morning, huh?”
“Yeah, but that wasn’t entirely it. My sister’s been a big fan of yours, and she never got out of my ear about you. That probably had more to do with it than the speech, but maybe that was the tipping point. I don’t know. This is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
More reversals. That line’s usually used in breakups, too.
“What?” Bret asked.
“Ask you,” she paused. “If you wanted to give us another shot.”
Bret couldn’t think from one moment to the next. He was purely reactionary. It was possible he had a concussion.
“Look,” Jenny continued. “I fucked up. I made a call to hate what you’d done and to hate you. You betrayed my trust and in the process destroyed my job blew my boss’ life wide open. I acted quickly and I judged you. It’s not easy for me to say this, but I did. I compartmentalized you into this box and you didn’t deserve it. I called you the worst names I knew and kicked you out and you had to stay at that slimey blogging asshole’s place. And that’s just it. I still that that asshole plenty. I never liked him. But he poisoned you against me, and what was I supposed to do? Be totally fine with all of it? I couldn’t. I had to react. I had to dump you, Bret. I didn’t feel like I had any choice, and if I could go back, I don’t know that I wouldn’t dump you all over again. But I still regret doing it, and I still want to undo the damage.”
Bret cleared his throat. He bit his lip. He bought as much time as mannerisms could buy. But she still stared, waiting for some kind of response.
“I don’t know, Jenny,” Bret said. “I really don’t.”
“Bret,” she said. “I know this must come as a bit of a shock, but I still think we’re right for one another. Don’t you?”
Jenny could never read Bret like Tess could, so Jenny had no idea what little Bret was thinking. He was seriously wondering if he should go to the hospital. But thoughts of putting this relationship back together crept in. And the rejection he received from Tess had painted him red with embarrassment, and here was his ex American asking for another go. How hypocritical could he be? How could he get rejected and then turn around and reject? It wasn’t right, and he couldn’t think straight, so he kissed her. He couldn’t think of anything else to do.
The clothes came off. Bret never told Jenny how much he needed a win after weeks of being pulled apart by this city, or even that he considered her a “win.” She didn’t tell him how long it had been since someone had looked in her eyes with entirely animal intentions. They’d come to these conclusions using entirely different maps, but there they were, both in need of air and new life.