For LOST IN LOS ALAMOS Beta Readers Only - Please Do Not Share.
Reach Out and Torch Someone
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Was the rest of his life going to be all about cleaning up messes from the past? His own, as well as others’?
Scott should have known not to go there when he was so tired and undefended. But he did. He had made it down to his t-shirt and briefs. He absently reached in to scratch himself, the touch a memory that surfaced through his fatigue. And he thought of her. He could barely keep his eyes open, but he reached for his phone charging on the edge of The Pyre. Scott had decided that’s what he would name the thing he slept on. It would grow on him. The name.
“Did I mention she has a voice like warm, fragrant honey flowing down the stem from the petals of a red rose?” he thought to himself, the saccharine image following along with it.
He sat there with his forefinger poised over the Play button, trying to remember why he shouldn’t tap it. He didn’t know how long he stayed like that, but at some point his finger kept lowering until it barely touched the glass and the Wait Wheel started spinning and then that same voice he remembered came out of the speakers. He should have deleted it the night before when he first saw it.
“Hi! Um, Scott? It’s... God, I’m sure you know.”
“I... just... Well, it’s been a while, I know, but...” There was a pause. Scott was tempted to reply to the voice in the message to ease her discomfort.
“I’m better now. Just wanted you to know and, ...”
“That’s news,” Scott thought.
“I miss you. Oh, shit! And I’m sorry. And I miss you. I just wanted to make sure you knew that... Yeah.”
Scott’s breath caught in his throat. He thumbed up the volume but it was up all the way.
“If you ever wanted to, you could call me. Ya know. Okay, I’m gonna go. Oh! Daisy says Hello!” She let out a laugh, then a quick sob escaped as she said, “Bye. Scott.”
“Daisy the Yap Dog says hello,” Scott said out loud. “What a way to end the call.” In his exhaustion, he just stared at the phone.
All of a sudden it began ringing. Sienna’s beautiful face filled the circle on the FaceTime Audio call screen. What do do?
“Don’t answer the phone!” Scott’s mind told him. “How long until it goes to voicemail? Why didn’t she video FaceTime me? I’m glad she didn’t.”
Tired and alone and susceptible to something like this, he believed he really wanted to hear that sweet voice, really wanted to hear her apology again, in realtime. And it was a voice from back home. He really wanted to tap that Answer button.
If anyone had asked him what the one thing was that could make everything all right being down there in Los Alamos in the cold Christmas Season by himself, doing shit work with a nutso, he could have said right then and there that the call from Sienna he answered was that one thing.
What the heck was the whole Closure thing about, anyway, he wondered, his heart still beating rapidly under his sweat-soaked t-shirt.
Suddenly, he had a reason for a new lease on his life in Purgatory, New Mexico. And then all of a sudden, Scott no longer had such an urgency to go home.
“Purgatory. Seems the perfect place for me,” Scott thought. “Better than hell,” he decided, “if it exists.”
He didn’t want to go home. If it meant he was in the vicinity of The Weight, he’d stay where he was and do the job for sure. Screw Todd, he’d find a way.
Sienna had seemed so relieved when he had answered the call. That genuinely made it seem like the right move to have answered it. Later, the strong pull to chew on the call he’d answered was just stupid. It was clear that nothing had changed.
Their conversation started with a lot of starts and stops, their words and voices hesitant. It didn’t take much more than Scott’s avoidance of giving any details of his current life to bring out both of their defense measures.
After she asked if he was seeing anyone, which came as swiftly and succinct as that, he knew he was wandering blind through a leftover minefield.
“Uh, no,” was all he said. It was the ‘Uh” part that he stepped on to set her off. Scott immediately knew it might not have been best include that preface to his answer. But he used it anyway because he was not in control. He knew that, too.
It really escalated with her proclamation, “You never tell me anything!”
The You’s and Never’s and Always’ came fast and furious from then on and Scott relived the spin out next to the ravine on I-70 on the way to where he was. His head spun and his breath was trapped in his chest.
How the hell the call ended with her saying that she hoped they could stay friends, he couldn’t fathom. It was a mystery far long after they had both mutually ended the call. There was no way they could remain so-called, ‘friends’. Not a chance, if Scott valued his sanity. Not if he hoped to ever have a normal and loving relationship or, more far-fetched, a healthy marriage.
Even though the heater wasn’t big, it thawed the small room to a warm-enough temperature for it to cycle through ons and offs. During the off times, the silence in the abandoned house disturbed Scott’s sleep. Without the white noise to carry his mind inward toward home and to memories that both relived and invented scenes from his other life, his mind would surface and psychologically gasp from holding a breath too long. The subconscious visuals played themselves out until they were caught up short by the disruptive quiet and he woke up.
Where was he? Half in, half out of his sleeping bag, for one thing. His sleeping bag was lying atop some rough and kind of hard surface. The whole thing teetered like a boat on water when Scott shifted his body. There was a faint shaft of light coming through the edge of black trash bags that he had taped over the opening in the wall to the living room. Where that light was coming from was anyone’s guess. Still, he couldn’t feel the size of the dark, wood paneled room. He could barely make out the white speckled ceiling tiles floating low above him.
Then the face of the heater lit up red-orange with a click and a hum, overpowering the red On light on top of it. The heat it radiated was dry, further drying the insides of Scott’s nose even more than the thin, Southwestern winter air. They burned and were clotted and he wanted very much to grab a tissue and pick them out. His eyes were crusted and when he registered that thought, he pulled across the corners of his eyes with his knuckles and then reached above him under the pillow for his phone that was still plugged in. It was fully charged so he untethered it.
Almost 3 AM, by his phone. He took stock of where he was in the universe.
- He was in a derelict house up on a mesa in the weird town of Los Alamos in the weird state of New Mexico.
- He was helping a person who was entirely deserving of help.
- He was working with a really weird guy who was possibly dangerous.
- He was only supposed to be there ten days max, but that was extending almost by the hour.
- He missed home and everything about it. He hadn’t quite started missing his friends, yet. Or his gigs with the band.
- He was worried about his work and clients in the of out-of-sight, out-of-mind sense.
- He sensed that his heart had a spot that was still raw in its missing that he was only aware of in reflective times like this.
“Yeah, I am a reflective guy,” he admitted to himself. “Shit.”
It was often to his detriment, he also knew. That raw spot was glowing like the heater coils right now. It burned, and the wisps of pain that wafted around it told him things that were probably lies. That was the way of an injured heart, wasn’t it, though?
Usually, he could divert his attention from the awareness of it by just turning to some other activity or problem to chew on. But he was captive here in this foreboding place. He did’t have to pee, so no need to get out of bed for that and he didn’t want to wander around the unfamiliar and decrepit structure. He was thirsty and there was a bottle of water next to his bed within arm’s reach, but he chose to be strapped in, motionless, for the ride on The Pyre downstream to the roaring waterfall that was inevitable.
All he had to do was think her name. His mind floated inexorably toward the drop, tumbling down into the white, foaming and churning heartache at the center of his core.
Oh, how he hated this.
“A man can’t want the relationship more than the woman. If you do, you’re in trouble,” was the saying he had learned from the Men’s Group. And while it may be sexist, might be misogynistic, it was still very true both in a general sense and in relation to a man’s Purpose. He knew he was in trouble. Or at least, had been. And yet, he could not blame her. It was his to own and name.
“If you can name it, you can tame it,” he said to the ceiling tiles. “What a fucking platitude,” he thought. “Okay, let’s look at this.” It yanked at his heart just seeing their photo together in his mind. “She’s so hot.”
That sweet voicemail that initially tugged on his heart hadn’t even made a dent on his memory of it all. The attraction was there from the start, absolutely. But to say that he was wary from his catastrophic marriage and divorce with his trophy wife was an understatement. So he fought the attraction to Sienna. For about two days.
The online dating scene was weird. And you’d think that in a smaller community it wasn’t necessary. And, well. He wasn’t twenty miles of bad road or anything like that. How he had missed seeing her around town, he couldn’t figure out. Once they found each other’s profiles, they realized they knew who each other was and it was pointless to keep on doing the chat thing online. So they met. And of course, it was at a Starbucks. Then the beach. And that was it.
She fit right in and right away. Scott saw their future in the distant, bright billowy clouds out over the ocean. The shapes turned into profiles of Sienna and her fabulous body. Her deep tan belied the whiteness of the skin hidden under her tank tops and shorts. Scott could imagine everything. Or so he believed. And that was the trouble - that was the Weight of their relationship that would drag it down into the deep. He imagined everything.
Two days. Two days of telling himself and acting on the “No” that was of his imagined virtue. After Starbucks, they were inseparable and for two days he managed to steer them away from his bed in the Malibu prefab. She didn’t protest. She went along with it, to her credit. Scott told himself ad nauseam that the attraction and affection they were immediately thrown into was enough for him. That it could sustain them through getting to know each other better. What a load of crap. He just had no real resistance to that kind of temptation.
After a hot summer of unbridled fornication between AC-cooled sheets with the western pacific sun burning through the blinds and across his bed and their white and bronze-striped bodies, reality had begun to cause resistance in the sexual high tension current that had spooled out over those first few months. They had been on hormonal auto pilot until the system inevitably failed and had caused a fiery crash. Up to that point, their love was bullet-proof. The whole soul mate thing. Peas-in-a-Pod thing and all the other buttery and out-of-the-Ark phrases that Scott’s mom used for Scott’s early dating.
It would be safe to say that the two had never considered that the totally jacked and steroidal magnetic pull of their sexual attraction could be undone so easily by the reversing of one or the other’s magnetic poles. When that finally happened between Scott and Sienna, they went flying apart with a force equal to that of when they had come together. And it was not pretty.
Somehow, it did not look ugly from an outsider’s view. It was only internally, in each of them and together, that the blood spurted from the deep and mortal rifts in their beating-out-of-control hearts.
They both were kind persons, not prone to evil acts or mean or hateful behavior toward others. Sienna was sweet to him. Scott was honorable toward her and their relationship. But, Scott reluctantly and regrettably admitted to himself, he had never really gotten beyond the Interested in Finding Out if He Was Interested stage.
And Sienna had not tested Scott on this. It was so easy for Scott to add her part in the error that he never gave himself the chance to get to the core of it.
Scott had come up with this theory of relationships even as young man, after recklessly falling in and out of what he thought was love and the too-many drive-by liaisons of his days playing and traveling with rock bands.
It came back to bite him in the ass big-time when he had fallen for Sienna. He knew sex was a powerful thing. In his earlier sessions with Betty Bee, she had illuminated that for him, not only in her Christian terms, but also in terms of an invisible spiritual/physiological bond that gets created. Of course, instead of heeding the wisdom and caution of that knowledge, he had used it to the max to get in with girls. He thought of it as a noble thing. He felt that the love he offered was true and sincere and usually, forever. He thought this every time, or almost every time.
When he had finally became weary of the fallout of failed and non-starter encounters because of the too-many tears that were inevitably shed; the anger and recrimination and regret coming from all sides, he had come to it.
The Two Levels of Interest. That’s what he named it. At the risk of selling out his community of men, he embraced this idea as a warning to himself and to the women who felt a need for an outlet to plug their dynamite boxes of love into.
When he first met a woman he was attracted to and if it even might be mutual, he became a hound dog on the trail; a wolf relentless on a hunt; a beggar panhandling on the street in a Charles Dickens novel. He was entranced, one-tracked, and the consummate euphoria junkie. He was self-deluding and self-medicating on romance and he came to believe most men were susceptible to these conditions. In a sentence, men were first only interested in finding out if they were really interested in the woman.