Thursday, 13 February 2014
Saving Mr Fox
How can you hope to find love if you cannot love yourself?
Eric Fox is an actor faced with his most difficult role yet—being himself. Seven years ago, on the way to his high school prom, an accident drove him from the arms of his young love, CJ. Eric ran away to LA, and CJ was left to pick up the pieces of his broken heart and broken life.
Guilt and regret has eaten away at Eric since that day, leading him to turn to the darker side of celebrity—to sex and alcohol. On a downward spiral and after a series of bad choices, Eric makes the difficult decision to return home. But returning home and having to spend two weeks with the man he left behind could be an obstacle Eric is nowhere near ready to face.
Can Eric find the strength to ask for CJ's forgiveness? And more importantly, can he find the courage to forgive himself?
Amazon (US) | Amazon (UK) | ARe | Barnes & Noble | Totally Bound
Reviews to follow...
To describe that night seven years ago as “it was a dark and stormy night” didn’t even come close to what Eric remembered. Rain had fallen in thick sheets and the wiper blades of his old Ford had barely made a difference. Dark clouds had blocked out the moon and the stars and the car’s headlights had done little to illuminate the dark highway. The storm had knocked out the power for what had been the third time that month and, as always, nobody had seemed in a hurry to get it fixed. There had been something in the road, maybe a deer or a dog. The animal had run out from nowhere and he’d swerved. He hadn’t thought he’d hit it and certainly nobody had told him he had. Maybe if it hadn’t been raining things would have been different. There had been so much rain. His car had skidded and hydroplaned across the road and into the other lane. The rest of the story blurred into white and red. There were gaps in his memory and all he remembered were the screams, the bright headlights of the truck and the blood on his hands.
Eric Fox leaned forward and focussed on the floor. He held his hands in the space between his knees and rubbed them together as he bounced his legs up and down. Composing himself, he raised his head and eyed the lady therapist sitting in the chair opposite him. Despite what many people believed, he wasn’t crazy. He didn’t need some shrink to rationalise his behaviour. He’d fucked up. Simple as that. The past was the past and it was nobody’s business but his—his and the bottle of Jack.
“You don’t want to talk about it?” she said and lowered her notebook. Her eyes were rich brown in colour and held questions, lots of them. “You know anything we discuss here is confidential.”
“Sure, unless you consider me a danger to myself or others, right?”
Madeleine Keaton gave a short nod. She was here to assess him and see if he was a risk to himself or anyone else. He wasn’t. She’d realise that and then this little venture could come to an end.
“Well, I’m not. It was a mistake. It’s the business, right? Sex and partying?” He frowned. “I didn’t mean for it to happen. I didn’t mean any of it, and if I was anyone else, no one would care. But I’m not, I’m me, so instead I have the press at my door, and men and women lining up to sell my dirty little secrets.”
“Is that how you see your relationships with them?”
There it was again, the topic of relationships. In the hour session, Madeleine had already prompted discussion of his family, friends, colleagues and lovers. The woman seemed obsessed with attaching blame. There was no one to blame, just his own stupidity, every single damn time something went to shit in his life.
“No. I’m not ashamed. I’m not some confused kid.” He was a twenty-five year old man living in LA. He had slept with men and women, and refused to be put into a box—gay, straight, bisexual. What the hell did it matter anyway? As long as he was happy, right?
I am so fucking happy.
Male or female, he was attracted to both, but he had to admit he did have a type—dark, tanned, athletic. With a heavy sigh, he tried to push away the memories of the man he’d just described. The man his lovers mirrored—the first person he had ever loved. Tension swept through him as he was brought back to that night seven years ago. They should never have been out on the road. The weather had been crappy and it had just been some stupid high school dance. But he had insisted. He’d wanted to have fun and dance and hold hands. He’d wanted to say, “Fuck you,” to anyone who gave a damn about two boys doing all those things. As it turned out, it had been a mistake. He’d been an idiot.
Clearing his throat, he met the therapist’s curious eyes. She’d have a field day with all that. He tried to imagine her concocting some theory about his behaviour. Something about him trying to relive his first love through strangers, but never quite finding what he needed—the same emotional attachment. Tiredly, he rubbed away the twinge in his chest. She wouldn’t be entirely wrong.
He smiled at the memory of the man, or rather the boy as he had been back then—eighteen years old and the most beautiful soul Eric had ever been fortunate enough to meet.
Madeleine had seen the smile. “What are you thinking?”
CJ was the first guy Eric had ever had feelings for. Senior year had been the one time Eric had truly felt close to someone. For eight months, life had been perfect. CJ was maybe the only person who had ever got to know the real Eric. Yeah, Eric had screwed his way through life and LA for the last seven years, but nothing and nobody had ever come close again.
“If you want me to help you, you need to start trusting me.”
Trust. He didn’t trust anyone anymore. People were always waiting for him to fuck up so they could say, “I told you so,” and stab him in the back.
Eric glanced from Madeleine to the clock above her head. “Time’s up,” he said and got to his feet. His agent had insisted he get himself straightened out. Apparently, no studio would touch a suicidal drunk. He was a drunk, yes, but suicidal? As he’d told the cops and doctors, it had been a mistake. After a little too much Jack and partying, he had been rushed to the ER at five in the morning, gotten his stomach pumped and had been spoken to by the head psych. And, as he’d been told in no uncertain terms, whether he was suicidal or not, he was a twenty-five year old with the insides of a man in his fifties. Drinking day in and day out wasn’t doing him or his liver any favours.
“Next week. Same time,” Madeleine stated in her silky and professional tone. Despite the shrink thing, she was kind of hot. Her hair matched her eyes and was pulled back from her face in a tight ponytail. To Eric’s disappointment, there wasn’t a hint of cleavage. Her silk blouse was buttoned to the collar and tucked into her bootleg-cut dress pants. The hint of three inch heels, however, peeped enticingly from beneath the black material, and Eric was halfway to interested in the seemingly straight-laced Doctor Madeleine.
Eric pressed his lips in a line and shrugged. “Sure,” he said. “If I’m in town.”
“You’re going away?”
LA wasn’t doing him any good. He needed to get away and think things through. His agent was right, he did need to straighten himself out, but he needed to do it his way. “I’m thinking of heading back home.” The idea had him breaking out in a cold sweat, but he had to give it a shot. He couldn’t carry on like this forever.
Madeleine offered encouragement. “Support of a family unit is important during recovery.”
Support? “I haven’t been home in seven years.”
Looking over her shoulder, Madeleine checked the time. She no doubt would want to delve into the reasons behind his sudden urge to head home. “You’re in my appointment book and you have my number.”
Eric gave a slow nod. “Sure and thanks.” He wasn’t sure he should be thanking her. His head was now more messed up than ever. Talking had simply stirred up feelings and memories he’d tried hard to bury. But instead, she’d picked and scratched away at him, determined to break through the steely surface he’d created, and damn it all to hell, she’d actually managed it. He was pissed, but he couldn’t decide if it was with her or himself. Seven years of guilt and regret had leaked into his heart and it hurt like fuck.
“Goodbye, Mr Fox.”
Eric flashed his most confident smile. The Fantastic Mr Fox.
* * * *
Eric opened his eyes. “What?”
“Feet,” Marcus said. He threw a magazine at Eric’s chest then tapped the vacuum cleaner head against his leg. “The car’s coming in an hour. This place is a mess.” He rammed the vacuum against Eric’s leg. “I don’t know how you live like this.” He pushed again, eliciting a grunt from Eric as his feet were knocked from the coffee table.
“Just leave it, man. I don’t care.” He pulled his legs up onto the couch and manoeuvred himself around to lie down. What was the point? What the fuck did it matter if there were dirty dishes in the sink or clothes strewn across his bedroom floor?
“I do,” Marcus insisted and turned on the vacuum. He wore a determined expression as he ran the cleaner over the rug and hardwood floor. Eric often wondered if the man was a machine, some cyborg sent through time to torment the shit out of him.
The low hum of the vacuum did nothing for Eric’s mood and he watched through narrowed eyes as Marcus continued to clean his apartment. He swore the man had OCD.
“Nobody cares!” he called over the sound of the vacuum, but Marcus either ignored him or didn’t hear. “Nobody fucking cares,” he repeated in a low voice and stared past Marcus and out the large floor-to-ceiling windows at the back of the apartment. The LA sky was clear and cloudless, and he wished he could drown himself in the endless blue. Not properly, just for a little while. Just long enough for the world to spin a couple of million times and everything to be forgotten. He realised the plan was doomed to fail. Even if everyone else moved on, he was stuck, stuck in his miserable, pathetic existence. It took Eric a moment to notice the room had fallen silent, and he lifted his head to find Marcus staring at him, hand on his hip as he gave a despairing look.
“Please tell me you packed,” Marcus said. His voice was edged with impatience but also concern. He’d watched Eric slowly spiral these last few months, and Eric knew Marcus felt in a small way responsible that maybe if he’d been a better friend or been more professional or one of many other things that wouldn’t have made a blind bit of difference.
“Eric?” Marcus worried his bottom lip and came to sit on the couch beside him. “Are you sure this is a good idea? Your folks? Home?”
It’s a fucking awesome idea. “Why wouldn’t it be?” He closed his eyes as he slid lower on the couch and tried to get comfortable.
Marcus Denton was his PA and paid for friend, his only confidante here in LA. Eric could never fire him, he knew too much.
“You haven’t seen your folks in nearly two years and you haven’t been home in seven. The other half of the baggage you carry around with you on a daily basis, and try to drown in whisky and vodka, is sitting at the end of a two hour flight.” Marcus was as blunt as a butter knife, but his words were still cutting. Eric, however, liked and appreciated his straight-to-the-point and abrupt PA.
Opening his eyes, Eric was greeted by Marcus’s furrowed brow and fiery stare. “There is no baggage,” Eric said, though he wasn’t entirely sure if that was the truth or a lie. In all honesty, after the first year in LA, he’d stopped asking, and his parents had stopped telling. He had no idea if his so called baggage even lived in Oakland Falls anymore. Seven years was a long time. People moved on and got on with their lives, mostly. Eric had certainly tried, even if it had been a resounding epic failure.
Marcus’s shoulders slumped. “You are such a liar.”
Eric gave a crooked smile. “You still love me, though, right?”
For years, Eric’s agent, Artie Godfrey, had suggested he get himself a PA—someone to take the pressure off and help organise him and his life. It hadn’t been until his second year in LA, when Eric had landed himself the role of a secondary character in the hit movie series The Devil’s Men, things had really taken off. Scripts were actually sent to him, and with publicity, guest appearances, photo shoots, auditions, even general everyday tasks, he just needed someone else there. While interviewing for a PA, Artie had suggested picking someone he was unlikely to fuck. He didn’t need to complicate his life further. Several applicants in and there he was, Marcus Denton, five-nine, blond, blue-eyed, skinny and gayer than a rainbow. Perfect.
“Love you? That depends. Did you sort your luggage?”
Crap. He’d had other things on his mind. “Let’s just put it out there. What would you see happening if I said no?”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake.” Marcus leapt off the couch with a string of expletives. “Why do I bother?” His voice rose in pitch as he stormed across the apartment and into Eric’s bedroom.
Eric flinched as there was a series of thuds and slamming of drawers and closets. He strained to hear as Marcus continued with his rant. With a sigh, Eric rubbed at his face. Was Marcus going to be like this for the full two weeks? Foolishly, he’d invited Marcus to join him on his little vacation. He hadn’t imagined for one minute the guy would say yes. But it seemed, for some reason, Marcus actually gave a fuck. Before he knew it, Marcus was his flight buddy and was going to be accompanying him back to Oakland. God knew what his parents were going to make of his high strung PA.
Here he comes.
“And another thing,” Marcus said with a grunt as he heaved the oversized luggage through the doorway. “I don’t plan on flying nine-hundred miles to hide out at your parents’ house.” He disappeared back into the bedroom before emerging with a bag Eric assumed was to be his hand luggage. “You and I are going outside, getting some air and doing something positive with our time.” He dropped the pack beside the couch and sat down. “It’ll be good for your profile.”
Eric frowned. Profile? That was Artie talking. “And how do you propose I do that?” This should be interesting.
Marcus shifted his weight and pulled folded papers from the back pocket of his jeans. “Artie had me Google some project ideas.” He held the printed pages out in Eric’s direction. “I want you to have a serious think about it.”
Taking the pages, Eric unfolded the two pieces of paper and stared at the list of good causes and charities within twenty miles of his home town. “Right,” he said as he skimmed the list. There were a dozen or so ideas on each page.
“I tried to find ones that might interest you. So we have animal shelters, youth projects and local drama groups. I was looking for things you could get involved with and be proactive.”
Artie was an asshole and so was Marcus for buying into this crap. “You’re being serious?”
Marcus took the paper from Eric and nodded. “Yes. It’ll do you some good. Wallowing around like the world is against you will get you nowhere.”
“I’d rather go to rehab,” he said dryly, though Marcus didn’t seem to appreciate his attempt at humour.
“Okay, but how long before you’re right back where you started? I agree you should probably go to meetings, do your twelve steps or whatever the hell it is, but to really get through this, you don’t go and hang out with a bunch of screwed up celebrities. You grow a pair and deal with this head on.” Marcus took a deep breath. He seemed like he had wanted to say that for a while.
Eric reached out and took back the list of projects. “Better?” he asked.
Nodding, Marcus looked towards the bedroom for what Eric assumed was an escape route if the conversation went south.
“Do you have any suggestions?”
Marcus briefly but suspiciously met Eric’s eyes. He leaned in and inspected the top page with Eric. Guardedly, Marcus spoke. “Personally, I think you should choose a youth project. Get out there and show yourself to be a positive role model. Some of these kids need that.”
Eric scanned through the brief descriptions of the first few projects he came across. He could probably try his hand at most of them. “Okay,” he agreed. “I’ll do it.” He respected Marcus’s opinion.
Marcus smiled and squeezed Eric’s leg as he stood up. “Good. Now go and make us both a sandwich while I finish packing.”
Oakland Falls had a population of around seven thousand and as far as Eric was concerned that was seven thousand too many. He felt surrounded. Too many people outside and it was slowly becoming as claustrophobic inside as well. Watching the disturbing combination of his mother and Marcus making breakfast had Eric feeling uneasy and kind of ganged up on. He hadn’t been prepared for their version of the odd couple and had suffered an evening of teasing and jokes, all of which had been at his expense. Then to add insult to injury, his usually sour-faced father had decided to join in too. They were all a total bunch of bastards. Didn’t they know he had come here to recover? Madeleine would be proud.
“Isn’t that right, Eric?”
Now what? “What, Mom?” Maybe he should have been paying attention rather than sulking about last night. Marcus had seemed to enjoy hearing about teenage Eric a little too much.
“You were a total geek when you were little?”
Oh, God. Why are you doing this to me?
“He had braces and these huge plastic frame glasses,” his mom continued. “I used to call him my little Einstein.”
“Mom, please.” He sounded whiny, but he didn’t care. This had to be some form of child cruelty despite the fact he was a grown man. Marcus gave him a smug look. Just you wait. He’d get him back somehow.
“But look at him now. I’ll have to get out the family albums.”
Not photos, Mom. Would she really be so cruel?
“You wouldn’t think it, what with all those things you read in the papers.”
Marcus glanced over his shoulder at Eric. The smug grin fell away and was replaced with a deep frown.
Eric shook his head and dismissed his concern. Eric would be a fool if he thought his parents would be immune to his lifestyle.
“Had the press on our doorstep last month wanting to interview us. Poking their noses in and looking for gossip.”
Eric gazed at his mother. She had her back to him. Her hair had the same medium brown colouring as him, though where he now had blond highlights—hers was shot through with the grey that came with age and wisdom. He had hoped his parents would somehow be left out of his recent fall from grace. But that had been wishful thinking.
“Did you talk to them?”
Maureen Fox stopped and rested the bread knife on the chopping board. Turning around, she met her son’s eyes and said in a frighteningly calm voice, “Only to tell them to get the hell out of my driveway.”
God love her. Eric snorted a laugh and suddenly the weight of that particular guilt seemed to lift. Relaxing, he looked up at his mother, who simple smiled and returned to slicing the breakfast muffins. “Thanks,” he said. He sometimes wished he’d stayed in contact more over the last two years. His parents were never the bad guys. It just happened they were residents in the town of one of his worst nightmares.
“Now, enough about all that. Bacon and eggs okay for you?”
Leaning back in his chair, he said, “Sounds great, Mom.”
* * * *
Being home felt strange, and yet, sitting on the back porch on the old swing chair, it was almost like he’d never left. Folding his arms, he rocked the chair a little harder and lifted his legs from the floor. He watched his shadow fall across the wooden beams as he swung back and forth. The peace and quiet was refreshing. It had been a long time since he had been able to just sit and be by himself. There were always people or phone calls, and the only peace he ever got was when he was passed out and drunk. He enjoyed the numbness it gave him. Feeling nothing was his favourite pastime.
The backdoor creaked as it swung open and Eric looked up to find Marcus standing on the porch. He appeared concerned as his gaze settled on the table beside Eric and the beer bottle sitting on it.
“You realise it’s two in the afternoon?”
Eric gave a slow nod. “Yep.”
Marcus gave a weary sigh and crossed the porch, coming to sit beside him. He eyed the bottle before reaching over and picking it up. Staring at the label, he rotated the bottle and an amused expression curled his mouth. “Zero point five percent?”
Laughing, Eric took the bottle from Marcus. “It tastes like shit,” he said.
“If ever there was a reason to go cold turkey,” Marcus uttered.
He hadn’t had a drink in twenty-four hours. For a short while, he’d seriously believed he was going to die. “You do realise if I manage this, I am going to be a nightmare to be with.” He noted the smirk spreading across Marcus’s face. “Okay, so, an even bigger jerk than usual.” Already, he had a headache, his skin felt itchy and the impulse to hit something or someone came on in waves. How long would he feel like this?
“Maybe,” Marcus said and took the non-beer from Eric. He raised the bottle to his mouth and tasted the tepid drink. “Well, I don’t think anyone drinks for the taste.” He licked his lips and handed Eric the bottle.
Eric nursed the bottle in his lap and gave a shrug. “I don’t know if I can do this,” he said truthfully, surprised as Marcus rested his hand on his.
“Of course you can.” The unwavering determination in Marcus’s voice was almost inspiring. It was a shame he didn’t feel anywhere near as confident as his PA. “A day at a time,” Marcus continued. “I have a good feeling about this.”
Really? A good feeling? “I guess we’ll see,” Eric said and downed the last of his drink. Wiping his mouth with his hand, he slid the empty bottle onto the table and surveyed the large yard. He had always loved playing out here when he was a kid. Large trees framed the lawn, and in a neatly dug-out oval stood his mother’s prize rose bushes covered in spring blooms. He admired the deep red and pale pink mix of the already open flowers against the leafy green background. His mother had nurtured them for years and they had grown beautiful and strong. Tensing his jaw, he wondered what she must think about him—her only son she’d raised just as lovingly. Did she blame herself?
“Are you okay?”
Clearing his throat, Eric got to his feet. Never had such an open space felt so small. He needed to get the hell out of there. “I’m fine,” he said and descended the few steps down to the garden. He could feel Marcus’s eyes on him and he couldn’t decide if he wanted Marcus to stay or leave him the fuck alone. His brain was slowly turning to mush and his headache had gotten worse. He appreciated Marcus’s company and support, but he wasn’t emotionally or physically in a great place right now. He was getting annoyed with his own company, never mind anyone else’s, and all he wanted was a dark corner to crawl into.
The trees had gotten larger in the seven years he’d been out in LA. Unlike him, they had matured, reaching upward towards the sky. He examined the blue sky. Not as clear as in LA this time of year, but it was just as blue. He watched the clouds as they chased each other overhead, but quickly regretted it. The memory of him, in love and laughing, eighteen years old and not a care in the world sprang up from inside him. They had lain on the grass in each other’s arms, him and CJ, finding patterns in the summer sky. It was strange how quickly things had changed. The innocent belief in love and forever, replaced with the reality of anger and guilt.
Fuck it all.
Sprinting, Eric ran towards the end of the garden and the old Walnut tree. He’d climbed the tree as a child, but back then youth and fearlessness were on his side. He could hear Marcus calling his name from the porch, but he didn’t care. Hesitantly at first, he found his footing and grabbed hold of the thick branches above him. With a smile on his face, he pulled his five-eleven frame upward and into the tree.
“You’re insane,” Marcus called up to him as he stopped beneath the tree. The scowl he wore slowly melted away as he met Eric’s eyes through the leaves. “You know that, right?”
Maybe he was, or maybe he wasn’t—insanity was subjective. Climbing higher, he straddled a wide branch and sat down. Swinging his legs, he looked down at Marcus and laughed. “Are you going to join me?”
Marcus shook his head. “Nor will you get any sympathy when you fall off your little perch and break your neck.”
Eric pressed his mouth in a line as the memory of broken bones caused his arm to twinge. Rubbing away the ache, he rested his head on the hard tree trunk. The solid feel comforted him, and he wrapped his hands around the branch he was sitting on. The rough bark grazed his fingertips and he held on more tightly.
“Do you plan on staying up there long?” Marcus asked.
Eric shrugged. Hiding in the tree sounded like a good idea to him.
Yawning, Marcus moved his head from side to side and stretched away the remains of last night’s unsettled sleep. “Are we collecting the car today, or can I go back to bed for an hour?”
“Bed is for losers.”
“And trees are for what?” Marcus grinned and glanced back towards at the house. With a heavy sigh, he turned to Eric, and looked firmly up at him. “Okay. Decision made. Get out of the tree before I go stir crazy. We’re going out.”
Out? As in out-out? “Where, exactly?” Marcus was going to have to put forward a great case if he was going to get Eric to leave the safety of his parents’ house anytime soon. He wasn’t ready. He really wasn’t.
Marcus shrugged, walked up to the tree and positioned himself against the trunk beneath where Eric was seated. He peered through the leaves and grinned then reached out and hit Eric’s sneaker. “Come on. What did you used to do for fun round here? There must be something.”
Eric considered Marcus’s question and suddenly found himself smiling. “It’s Sunday, right?” Marcus narrowed his eyes as he nodded. There was one thing he used to love to do and already, he knew Marcus was going to absolutely hate it. Comeuppance was a beautiful thing.
* * * *
“Please tell me it’s nearly over.” Marcus had had his eyes shut for the last few minutes, and Eric grinned as he noted the tight creases at the corners of Marcus’s eyes and mouth as he screwed up his face. Marcus’s California-tan had faded and he now sported an interesting green tinge across his skin.
Eric fixed his gaze on the people beneath them. The chair tilted and Marcus let out a high-pitched yelp.
“Don’t you fucking move,” he said, opening one eye as he glared at Eric. “I hate you,” he said, though there was no real venom in his voice.
The Ferris wheel slowly turned and Eric ran his hands side to side over the cool metal safety bar. Closing his eyes, he felt the breeze on his face and let it calm him. All the shit from LA slowly melted away as he took a steadying breath. The air was tainted with the smell of the fair. The sickly-sweet scent of candy floss mixed with greased gears, and the sound of people and music and prize winning bells surrounded him, taking him back to what could only be described as simpler times.
Every other Sunday, and before he was old enough to think hanging out with his dad was no longer cool, the two of them would visit the farmer’s market and fair. A quick lap of the site and they’d make their way from ride to ride—the dodgems, the swings and the helter-skelter. They would always end on the Ferris wheel.
“Oh, my God.”
Opening his eyes, Eric glanced at Marcus. He looked petrified.
Marcus’s knuckles turned white as he held on. “Why have we stopped? It’s broken, isn’t it? We’re stuck.” He opened his eyes and dared to look down at his swinging legs. “I’m going to be sick.”
The wheel had simply stopped to allow people on and off the ride. Unfortunately for Marcus, this had left them one chair from the top of the wheel.
“Don’t you fucking dare,” Eric said. Maybe this hadn’t been such a great idea after all. The wheel jerked into motion, rocking the chair before halting again at the top. “You could have waited at the bottom.”
Marcus faced Eric and snapped, “Oh yeah, right, and be left to explain where I was while you threw yourself off some carnival ride?”
Eric tensed his jaw. Did Marcus actually think he’d do that? “You seriously think I’d try to kill myself?” Saying he was disappointed didn’t come close.
“No. Sorry.” Marcus fixed his gaze on the trees in front of them. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
“If I was about to top myself, death by Ferris wheel wouldn’t be my first choice.” The chair swung as he faced Marcus and said in a low, forced-steady voice, “I didn’t try to kill myself. I drink too much and I do stuff without thinking. But I am not suicidal.” He sat back as the wheel rotated to let more riders off. “Just sometimes I want to…forget.”
“I know.” Marcus did know, or at least some of it. Alcohol had a nasty habit of loosening Eric’s tongue where Marcus was concerned and he was the closest thing Eric had to a real friend in LA. Marcus knew there was a guy called CJ and he knew things hadn’t worked out. Why they hadn’t, not so much. Marcus circled his hands around the safety bar as he eyed the ground. There were a few more stop-starts before they could get off the wheel.
Eric rested his hand over Marcus’s and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “Still want that hotdog?” He was surprised when Marcus spread his fingers and allowed Eric’s to thread between his. He hadn’t realised how small Marcus’s hands were for a guy. The wheel turned and it was their turn to dismount.
“Maybe give me ten minutes, yeah?” he said and pulled his hand from Eric’s as the man operating the ride lifted the bar and held a hand out to Marcus to help him down. “Excuse me while I go kiss the dirt.” He mouthed a “Thank you” to the operator and made his way quickly down the steps in search of solid ground.
Smirking, Eric followed him and waited as Marcus paced the small patch of worn grass. “You okay?” he asked.
Marcus simply raised a hand to silence Eric. He’d be fine given time.
Eric looked over his shoulder as someone grabbed him by the arm. He stared at the woman standing in the waiting line of people.
“Eric Fox? It is you, isn’t it?”
The woman viewed him with critical blue eyes as if she wasn’t sure he was truly there. Releasing his arm, she ran a hand back through her cropped, bleach-blonde bob, revealing a slice of pink colour in her hair behind her ear. There was no mistaking who she was.
“Jodie. Hi.” He didn’t know what else to say.
“Hi. What are you doing here? I thought you were in LA.” She folded her arms defensively across her chest.
Of all the people, it had to be her. “I was. I am. I’m just here visiting my folks.”
“Maureen and Dennis. How are they? I haven’t seen them in a couple of months.”
Just a couple of months? Christ, as if he didn’t feel guilty enough already. “They’re good. You?”
“Yeah, I’m great. This is Rob,” she said as she waved a hand towards the guy she was standing with. “We got engaged last month—”
“Okay, I’m ready for that hotdog,” Marcus said brightly as he clapped his hands together and came to stand beside Eric.
“Oh, sorry.” Marcus looked between Eric and Jodie. “Hi.”
At least Marcus was as socially inept as he was. “Jodie, Marcus. Marcus, Jodie.”
“Hi,” Marcus said again. As if sensing Eric’s discomfort, Marcus took a step back. “I’ll just go wait over there.”
“No,” Jodie said sharply and looked Marcus up and down. “I should go anyway.” She spotted Rob had edged past her in the line. “It was nice seeing you. You too, Marcus.” And just as quickly as she had re-entered his life, she was gone again, carried away in a sea of people.
Marcus moved closer and gently rested a hand on Eric’s shoulder. “Who was she?” he asked.
“She was…” He glanced at Marcus’s hand, wishing to grab hold of it for support and never let go.
“Baggage?” Marcus pressed.
“No, his sister.”