Britland walked into the apartment carrying several bags of groceries. He overheard the tail end of Felix’s conversation with his dad. “Dad please. I just need a little advancement…” Felix snapped his mouth shut when he noticed Britland. He rolled his eyes as if to indicate his dad was overreacting. “I know I asked for an advancement last month. I’m just a little short. Yes Britland pays his share of the rent. The other guy … well” he turned his back to Britland. “Yeah dad it won’t happen again. I’ll talk to him.”
Britland set his load down turned to face Felix “what won’t happen again?”
Shrugging Felix put his phone away “I just told him what he wanted to hear.”
By throwing Carson under the bus.” Britland knew things were bad between the two but to this extent he had no clue.
“So?” he jutted his jaw out figuratively drawing a line in the sand.
“Carson has never been late with the rent. He even pain your portion a few times and never asked to be repaid.” Britland stared at his friend “what’s going on Felix?”
“Nothing’s going on” his eyes darted around the room looking everywhere but at Britland. “What’s the big deal? My dad doesn’t even know Carson. So what if he thinks he’s some kind of dead beat freeloader.”
“I care” the fierceness in his voice caused Felix to stare at him. “I’m sorry I ever asked him to come here. I should have asked first. That’s my fault not his. But you were the one who asked him to stay. He could have gotten a different place. You said you could use his help with the rent. Well actually you said I could use the help.”
“You’re blowing this all out of proportion” Felix scoffed “it’s not like we know him.”
“He’s my friend” Britland said as if that should be explanation enough.
“Ah” Felix smirked “the truth comes out.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Britland frowned feeling as if he had missed something.
“He’s more than just a friend” Felix laughed “I bet he’s more like a friend with benefits.”
“No” Britland gasped “not everything revolves around sex.”
“Of course it does” Felix scoffed “just because you’re not getting any doesn’t mean you’re not thinking about it.”
Britland’s face radiated heat giving credence to his friends accusations. “Quit twisting everything I say. It still doesn’t give you the right to use Carson as your scapegoat.”
“Are you afraid it’ll get back to your parents?” Felix asked “haven’t you come out to them yet?”
“That’s not it” Britland protested “I don’t want them thinking bad of him before they even meet him.”
“Oh” Felix’s eyes glittered with mischievous delight “you do like him.”
“He’s my friend” Britland stubbornly held on to that despite evidence to the contrary.
“Don’t worry so much” Felix advised “it’s not like my parents hang out with yours. They’ll never know. Be a pal why don’t ya?”
Britland had never been able to refuse Felix anything in the past; especially not when he was giving him the puppy dog look “I don’t like it. Find another way.”
“Yeah sure” Felix shrugged walking away “whatever.”
“Felix I mean it” Britland called after him.
“That was interesting” Carson’s voice had the blonde jumping.
“How much did you hear?” he stammered eyes shifting from the floor to Carson’s face then back to the floor.
“Enough to know that I should leave” Carson’s voice was low with an undercurrent of anger in it “I should have a long time ago.”
Nodding Britland moved towards the kitchen to put the groceries away. “I’m sorry” he mumbled “Felix…well he’s Felix.” He shrugged not knowing what else to say. He had tried to explain why Felix was the way he was. If you didn’t know him no one could understand.
“You need to stop making excuses for him” Carson told him “he’s not worth it.”
“He is to me” Britland blurted out. “He’s always had my back. He was there for me when all the kids were making fun of me. He stood up for me. Fought my battles when I was too scared to do it for myself.”
“I admire your loyalty I really do” Carson kept his voice low watching the blonde closely. “Where’s his loyalty to you? He’s changed. He’s not the person you knew.”
“He’s still me friend” Britland held on to that fact like a dog would it’s bone. Guarding it closely. “I don’t know what’s up but something definitely is.”
“Ok” Carson sighed knowing it was futile to argue further. “Would you at least consider moving out with me?” He asked after a few minutes of silence passed between them. He could tell by the tense muscles in Britland’s back that he’d refuse. “Forget it” he mumbled backing away from the blonde “forget I asked.”
Britland watched him walk away wishing there was something he could say to stop him. Groaning he turned away feeling very much torn in two. He wanted to please both men. Knowing all too well he was going to hurt one or the other of them. He hurried to put the rest of groceries away his mind troubled.
When he was finished Britland hovered outside Carson’s door. After a few minutes he lifted his hand to knock softly on the smooth wood surface a part of him hoping the occupant within would tell him to go away. Instead the door opened a crack and Carson demanded “what do you want?”
“Can we talk?” he asked
“I’m busy” Carson mumbled.
“Please” Britland entreated him. He could see the indecision in Carson’s lavender eyes. The softening of the lines around his eyes as he opened the door allowing him inside. “Thank you” he murmured as he walked past into the room beyond. His eyes grew large and round as he saw the clothes piled high on the bed in various stages of packing.
Carson shrugged at Britland’s unasked question “I can’t stay.”
“And I can’t go” Britland could feel a heaviness fall over his chest like something was pressing in upon him squeezing his lungs.
“So you say” Carson shrugged carefully folding a shirt and placing it in a bag.
Grabbing the shirt from Carson had just picked Britland growled “you don’t understand.”
Astonished Carson glared at the blond. It was unusual to see Britland so worked up.
“Why don’t you explain it to me? I don’t understand.”
Britland nodded twisting the shirt between his hands before tossing it aside. “I know most people see Felix and think he’s a jerk.”
“A womanizing jerk” Carson amended “but you don’t. You see something different.”
“Right” He sat on the floor drained of all energy “I see someone who needs help. Someone who is crying out for help. For someone to see through the facade and like him anyway.”
“Wow” Carson mumbled sitting beside him on the floor “I just see a jerk.”
“I know” Britland acknowledged “he used to throw full on temper tantrums when we were in preschool together. Anything to get his parents to come to the school. Eventually his parents stopped coming. Couldn’t be bothered.”
“So you think he’s trying to get his parents attention?” Carson asked disbelief clear in his voice and the way he looked at Britland.
“Makes sense doesn’t it?” Britland enthused “the only time his parents call him is when he needs something. It’s like the more they pay the more they love him.”
“If you say so” Carson snorted “it doesn’t make sense to me.”
“It’s like this” Britland sighed trying to express what he knew for years. “Money is something tangible. Felix can see it. Feel it. Count it. He’s never been able to see his parents love for him through their actions; especially not when they stopped reacting to his tantrums, his lies, his outrageous behavior. Felix is good at pushing buttons and getting people to notice him. Everyone except his parents. Now the only time he gets their attention is when he needs money.”
“The constant flow of women” Carson nodded “I guess it does make sense.”
“Felix actively discourages commitment while at the same time wanting to feel loved and desirable.” Britland shook his head “he doesn’t want to commit and become his parents. The whole thing scares him.”
“He wants to be loved but doesn’t want the commitment that goes along with it” he shook his head “I don’t get it.”
“Neither does he” Britland leaned into him “it leaves him feeling hollow. He doesn’t know how to change the cycle he’s in. If I leave him like everyone else has it’ll only confirm to him that he’s as unlovable as he thinks he is.”
“There comes a time when enough is enough” Carson said making sure he held eye contact with Britland.
“You think I’ve already gone beyond that point” Britland shook his head “I don’t. I know he’s pushing my buttons trying to get me to leave. He’s trying to prove a point to himself that everyone leaves him sooner or later.”
“So you’re just going to put up with his shit?” Carson grumbled “I don’t like it.”
“You don’t have to” Britland sighed “it’s important that you understand why I can’t just leave him. He’s my friend. He’s hurting and needs help.”
“You’re really too good to him” Carson stood up “I’ll ride it out with you. I can’t leave you anymore than you can leave him.”
Felix could hear low rumble of voices coming from the room next to his. He knew they were talking about him. No doubt Britland was trying to convince Carson to stay. Felix turned his back to the wall. He knew he shouldn’t have told his dad Carson was the reason he wasn’t able to meet his bills. He knew Britland wouldn’t go along with the harmless little white lie. He wanted to gloat that he had finally made the interloper leave. He had heard the drawers open and close. He had even allowed himself a satisfying laugh at the thought of Carson throwing his clothes into bags.
That was until he started to think about how this would affect Britland. He wasn’t blind to the way Britland looked at the long-haired hippie. Puppy love? Crush? Maybe. Felix refused to believe it could be love. True love only happened in the movies. He wanted to believe Britland would thank him late for breaking them up. It would open the blonde’s eyes to the harsher realities of life.
He groaned out loud. His stomach felt queasy getting worse the more he thought about what he had done. Guilt maybe. It wasn’t something he felt often. There were only a few times he had ever felt that way and they were centered around two people, Britland and Crystal. Their gentle reproach and concern he could see in their eyes made him feel like he were two feet high. He didn’t deserve them in his life. Why didn’t they just leave him like everyone else?
Frustrated he sat up unable to take the low murmurs next door. He glancing at the time he knew he had just enough time to change and arrive at the club as it opened. Maybe tonight was his lucky night. He pulled his wallet out, counted his money. He had enough for a couple of games maybe more if he managed to win. He ignored the nagging voice in his head telling him that this was a bad idea. The money should go to paying his bills. Shoving his wallet into his pocket he needed something to fill this void inside himself. His dad hadn’t failed to bail him out yet. He knew he’d be flush with cash by the end of the week.
He threw his shirt aside as he hastily changed. his heart beat increased as he imagined what the night had in store for him.This was better than staying home feeling guilty. He was a jerk. Why should he pretend to be anything else?
Felix breezed through the club entrance like he owned the place. He liked that feeling of being the big man on campus. He made a beeline towards the bar, several heads swiveled to follow him. “Hello pup” an older woman purred.
Felix smiled back taking in the perfectly styled hair. The caked on makeup that did little to hide the wrinkles around her eyes. The bright red lips the left marks on every surface they touched. “Not tonight” he smirked coyly at her leaving the impression he’d be game if he struck out on someone younger, prettier.
“Come back when you want a quality ride” she winked at him crossing her legs to maximum effect.
Chuckling a little he waved down the bar tender. He placed an order all too aware of the woman’s lustful gaze. It was a game. The woman was obviously looking for an easy romp in the sack. He didn’t want any complications so he just might be leaving with her before the night was over. Crystal’s face came to mind making him shake his head to free it of her presence. Crystal was different. When he was around her he wanted to be different. He wanted to be what she deserved.
He gulped down the drink he held in his hand. Turning he found another drink in front of him. The bartender pointed towards the minx at the end of the bar. He raised the glass in appreciation before taking a drink. He walked towards the pool table where a game was in progress. “Winner” he declared holding up a hundred-dollar bill.
“Pipsqueak thinks he can beat Bobby” one of the girls said who was hanging around the tattooed men..
“I don’t only think I can. I know I can” he asserted causing several of the large burly men to laugh into their beers.
“Pinkie you’re welcome to try” a man said holding his hand out for the money “I haven’t lost a game ever.” He flexed his arms displaying his bulging muscles.
“There’s a first time for everything” Felix quipped undaunted.
“Bold” the man nodded in approval “I like it. Just don’t get cocky.” His voice was loaded with warning.
“I’ll show you cocky” Felix postured moving to set up the game.
“It’ll be a pleasure to teach you some humility son” the older man smirked.
Several hours later Felix paid out his losses to the heavily tattooed man. Bleary eyed he slumped onto a bar stool where the middle-aged woman leaned over exposing her ample cleavage. “I know what will make you feel better” she whispered in his ear resting her hand in his lap.
“I bet you do” he slurred. The drunken haze he was in softened her face until she looked almost pretty.
Giving him a squeeze she got up sure he’d follow her. Frowning when all she got was a loud snore in response. “For crying out loud” she frowned at the young man with his face resting on the dirty bar. She turned away disgusted.
“Hey don’t leave your boy toy behind” the bartender shouted as she pushed open the exit door.
“He’s all yours” she raked her cold eyes over Felix stupefied form “he’s of no use to me like that.”
“Beggars can’t be chooser” the barman yelled.
“I’m no beggar” the woman turned and her heels clicked on the cement disappearing as the door closed behind her.
The barman glanced at the pink haired boy face down on his sticky bar. “Stupid kid can’t hold his liqueur,” the man closed the down the bar cleaning around Felix. When he was finished he hoisted Felix over his shoulders and dumped behind the bar by the dumpster. “Maybe this will teach you a lesson” the man muttered walking away.
Shivering in the chilly morning air Felix woke up to the unpleasant aroma of rotting garbage and wet dog. He tried to brush away the enthusiastic tongue licking his face. Groaning he pushed the mangy mutt away as he staggered to his feet. Dog slobber rolled down his chin. Disgusted he used his shirt to wipe his face clean. “What the hell” he muttered tottering around in a circle “where am I?”
He went to glance at his watch only to find it gone. “Shit” he grumbled loudly to the annoyance of the local cats and dogs. A couple of rats scurried from the dumpster as he leaned against it holding his head. Fragments of the night came back to mind. The money he lost. All the drinks. The old lady propositioning him. Then nothing.
Checking his pockets he found his watch was not the only thing missing. His wallet was gone as well. Not that it mattered. There was no cash in it and he had left his credit cards at home. His cell phone was his biggest worry. His whole life was in it. Kicking the dumpster he yelled his frustration into the night.
Pushing off from the dumpster he staggered towards the road hoping to flag down a taxi he’d use his dad’s account to pay for the ride. A car’s headlights lit him up against the dark alley He squinted as it slowed down and stopped. “Felix” a familiar voice said “is that you?”
He stopped stunned. He could have bluffed his way out of any situation but not with her. What did fate have against him that would bring her out this early in the morning? He shoved his hands into his pockets head bowed “Oh hey what brings you here?”
“I work the early shift at the restaurant this week” she said “get in.”
“It’s not that far” he refused “I can walk.”
“I’m not asking” she said pointing to the passenger seat “get in.”
Short of running away Felix didn’t have many options. He shuffled around the car and got in. He was all too aware he smelled of stale beer, smoke, rotting garbage and wet dog. He slumped in the seat covering his face.
“I won’t ask how you got into this mess” she said making a u-turn “I do think you’re in trouble and need help.”
He made a noncommittal grunt letting her words bounce off him. He knew what he was doing. He wasn’t a kid. He was an adult who had a little too much to drink. He knew what he was doing. He wasn’t a kid. He was an adult who had a little too much to drink. There was nothing wrong with having a little fun. Letting loose. Distressing. It was everyone else who had the problem. “Thanks” he mumbled getting out of the car when they came to a stop in front of their building.
Crystal looked at him like she wanted to say something else. Shaking her head as if deciding it wasn’t worth it she gave him a brief wave before turning the care around and driving off.
Felix watched her leave standing in the middle of the street until someone honked at him. He entered the apartment building hoping his roommates were still in bed as he wouldn’t have to the walk of shame in front of them. Crystals words echoed in his brain. Did he really need help? Sure he drank a lot, gambled a little too much, had sex with nameless faceless girls he could care less about. Did that mean he had a problem? He never thought so until now.
The elevator music made his head ache and his body feel like it was pummeled by a meat grinder. Maybe what he thought was normal really wasn’t especially if it left him feeling hollow inside. He didn’t know anymore and he was too tired to worry about it at the moment.
As he opened the door Carson and Britland looked up from their plates. He could see disdain in the way Carson glared at him and worry in Britland’s green eyes. He stared defiantly back at them. Challenging them to say something about his appearance. Neither one did which in itself was disappointing. Any reaction was better than this nothingness. He shuffled past them doing his best to imitate his best peacock strut all the while telling himself he didn’t care what they thought of him.