By Isabelle Fahey
I feel the door click shut behind me and there she is. Mary-Ann, sitting on the top step with a Pekingese.
“How’d you end up on dog duty?”
She shrugs, not quite making eye contact. “Darryl’s got it worse. He’s in the bathroom with Bingo and that new bulldog thing locked in the shower.”
I snort. “Guess we won’t be seeing any more of him.”
“Speaking of–is Jasper in there? I’m gonna kill him if he came back up the fire escape to dodge me.”
“Nah, I would have noticed. Actually, we all would have, when we heard the splat of him hitting the concrete. Dude’s off his tits already.”
“Yeah, but he always is. Seems to function alright to me.”
“Trust me, Party Jasper is a completely different kettle of fish. He’s in no state to tie his own shoe right now.”
She cocks an eyebrow, “Kettle of fish? What are you, my accountant?” Her smirk resets into a straight line. “I don’t know about this group sometimes. I don’t know if–and I’m not talking about you, I’m not talking about most people, but–I don’t know if everyone here is my kinda person, you know? Like yeah, maybe I’d rather just be in this fucking stairwell having a chat and taking the piss out of a weird-ass dog with my senses intact, and not, like–”
“Snorting coke?” I wince at my own poor joke. “Nah, I get it. Yeah. They’re a lot. Being some kinda unofficial roadie for their shitty band is a lot. Carting their huge fucking amps to random bars every weekend as, like, payment for an invite to the afterparty is a lot.”
“No way, you think it’s shit too?”
I shrug, pause. “You know we’re, like, friends outside the group, right? Like, we can hang out.”
“Yeah.” The smile’s back, un-sarcastic this time. Subtle, but I catch it. “So, you wanna go hunt down Jasper with me?”
“And become an accessory to murder? Absolutely.” I help her to her feet. Somehow we make it down the stairs unscathed. The Pekingnese in tow, of course. It whines at our heels.
Jasper is in the lobby, slumped forward on the couch–no surprises there. A few other stragglers litter the room; Little Pete, similarly positioned, on a couch facing away from Jasper; Minette, Scooter, and Zeb gathered round a small telly in the corner.
“You missed Hook.” Scooter calls, craning his neck to look back at us over the back of the sectional. “It’s actually really good on the third re-watch. Like, I know it’s good the first time round, but the third? Forget about it.”
“Damn. That actually sorta sounds like fun.” I glance at Mary-Ann. “Not that upstairs wasn’t, you know– This is just more normal fun.”
Scooter’s eyebrow twitches. “Right, well, I think they’re playing Night at the Museum next. Must be some kinda marathon.”
The comment seems to wake Zeb up. “How’dya mean?”
“You know, Robin Williams? He’s bloody, um, Teddy Roosevelt in this one.”
“Really?” Zeb doesn’t seem convinced; either that, or he’s losing interest entirely. “Must’ve dozed off in the cinema.”
I elbow my way onto the sofa, between the boys and Minette, and cordon off space for Mary-Ann. “You saw Night at the Museum in the cinema?”
“As a kid! Come on, it’s a good film!”
“I prefer the second one.” Minette pats the gap between us and Mary-Ann throws herself down. The Pekingnese tries to wrestle its way onto my lap but settles for Scooter, who is at least kind of a dog guy. “Rami Malek and Amy Adams? Come on.”
The group mumbles their assent. I think about adding what about Ben Garrant? but decide against it. He looks like Daniel, a bit. I feel shitty for not thinking about him more, but I do wish he could have come tonight. Honestly.
A couple others from upstairs have made their way down and pile on–literally. I try to shield Mary-Ann but we end up kinda wedged behind some guy who I think is called Benny and who reeks. I guess Jasper must have wandered over, too, because he’s perched on the back of the couch like a vulture, with his foot on my shoulder.
“You having a good time down there, Red?” Scooter’s talking to me. I realise how entwined I am with Mary-Ann, how Jasper’s leaning into me.
“Oh, yeah. I’m like a, I don’t know, some sorta sexually-charged avalanche survivor over here.”
“I would have gone with ‘horny crash-test dummy’ myself,” Mary-Ann offers, shifting away a little. Jasper’s practically slid into my lap now. I doubt he’s noticed.
He reads my mind though. “Where’s Daniel tonight?”
“Had to work.” It’s not actually untrue, it just isn’t what might be called ‘honest’. Not that I’m known for that. But it’s Jasper, his face hovering inches from mine. “On a project, I mean.” And that’s all the truth I’m willing to give him.
Jasper is a void–so long as a void can nod, that is. It’s barely a twitch, blink-and-you-miss-it type reaction, but for a guy on another astral plane or whatever it’s pretty impressive.
“Bull. Danny hates us,” Zeb interjects, affably.
“He hates when you call him Danny, I know that much.” I shake my head. “Really, though, he’s just busy. I’m sure he’d be here if he could.”
“Bull.” Zeb grins, punctuating the phrase with a long drag on his cigarette. He blows the smoke into Scooter’s face; neither seems particularly fazed. A stale glance catches in the air between me and Mary-Ann. Minette sniffs. Benny wedges himself in further.
People shift and part as the credits roll. Scooter battles the revolving door with his ratty guitar case, blinking against the morning light. Zeb is still around somewhere, throwing up. Jasper has simply vanished.
I have a headache like a bee sting and the beginnings of cold feet. Apart from that, I might as well be dead.