The Balcony

Chapter Four

By Dabeagle


My head hurt.

I’d found a nice quiet corner and squirreled a bottle of port in case of emergency. Not long after the senator arrived, and opened his mouth, I felt the situation was definitely an emergency. Pompous, grandiose, pretentious, ostentatious and overbearing does not begin to cover the full spectrum of this human being. I struggled mightily to not make remarks, jibes or outright insults to this walking horror of a human being. The only joy I had was recalling a favorite movie line, ‘An ounce of pretension is worth a pound of manure’.

The only nice thing I have to say about him was he puked in the Pepto-Bismol room, which I found appropriate. I know I feel nauseated if I stay in there too long myself.

The party had been a catered affair, and fairly large as well, so my disappearing for much needed shots of alcohol were largely unnoticed. I say largely because only Paul, Jon and Charlotte happened to notice. You’d be proud however, I held my tongue and my dinner from covering our guest head to toe in bile.

A slight breeze blew in through the windows, opened wide to the day. Thankfully the curtains were still drawn, obviously Paul had opened them. If it had been Jon they’d have been wide open to disturb me at full effect. He finds that sort of thing amusing, and then wonders why I am cranky. The door opened and closed softly, bare feet whispering across the rug. What was undoubtedly a cup and saucer were placed on my nightstand and warm fingers began to stroke my hair.

“You have such wonderful hands,” I murmured.

“I thought you said I had a wonderful tongue?” Paul chuckled.

“That too,” I agreed, snuggling into his hand.

“As usual, you’re the last one up.” Paul informed me. “I brought you coffee.”

“You must love me,” I said as I slowly stirred myself into a sitting position.

“I do. How else could I endure your bad temper and bad cooking to boot!”

“I don’t cook,” I grumbled.

“Funny you don’t argue the bad temper though.”

“I’m misunderstood.” I stuck my tongue at him to emphasize my point.

“You’re a grumpy old man.”

“Why are you trying to irritate me this early in the morning?” I muttered and sipped more of the dark nectar.

“It’s almost noon!”

“Your point?” I raised an eyebrow at him while he smiled, surrendering to my freshly woken attitude.

“Drink your coffee,” he sighed. I complied, sipping gratefully. Paul knows exactly how I like my coffee, and he always endeavors to make it just right.

“It tastes wonderful, just the thing I needed. Thank you love,” I said while giving him a small peck on the cheek.

“There, you see? That’s why I love you.” He smiled and stretched. “Jon and I are going into town, want anything?”

“Cheese puffs and champagne,” I replied.

Paul wrinkled his nose at me and waved good-bye. He has no room to talk about odd tastes, he likes those awful vinegar and salt chips. I stretched, enjoying the feel of the fine sheets. Charlotte had spared no expense on this room, and the yellow was actually growing on me, unlike the pink room. I shuddered.

After a shower and shave I felt more presentable and made my way to the kitchen. Charlotte was seated on the sun porch having a cup of coffee and I refilled my cup and took a deep breath to gird my loins before joining her.

“He lives!” she teased me.

“I do!” I agreed, then allowed my eyes to cloud with doubt, “Don’t I?”

“Oh, we’d miss you if you died. I can’t think of anyone as stubborn as you are, who could possibly fill that void?”

“No one,” I agreed as I took a seat.

“Jon took Paul and his mother into town. Joel and Sasha tagged along too, so it’s just us this morning.”

“I can tell, it’s peaceful. No one asking me to write a sequel.”

“Well, I know Jon’s concerned about you. He says you haven’t written in months.”

“I see Paul has been bending his ear.”

“Well, there are no secrets here, Paul and I talk too you know. When my fiancée is stressing, I know it. Can I ask you something?”

“You can ask….” I trailed off. I couldn’t meet her gaze, not if she was going to ask me prickly questions about the wedding.

“Ok, so you reserve the right not to answer.” Hew brow furrowed as if she were choosing her words with caution. “Does it have anything to do with me why you can’t write?”

The question shocked me. Of all the conceivable questions she might have asked, this never would have occurred to me; only because the idea was one I had never considered. I turned it over in my mind, and as I did so Charlotte began filling pieces of her theory.

“You wrote your first book with the thought of Jon as gay, which since you two are so close and now that you realize he isn’t, I wonder if that takes some of the fire out of the story for you?”

I thought on that for a moment. Could there be any truth to that? I turned the thought over in my head but wasn’t getting any clear sense of it. It was possible it was a part of the reason, I suppose.

“I’ll tell you honestly, Char, I really don’t know what the issue is.” I looked off into the land behind the house, staring at it all and seeing none of it. “Every time I sit in front of the computer, my mind goes blank. I used to get ideas in the grocery store, while getting a haircut or whatever. I have no ideas, I have no plans…”

“Paul’s worried for you,” she said softly laying hand over my own.

“He worries too much,” I replied while rolling my hand upward to hold hers as well.

“You know, your hands have a gentle touch. Paul has often said so, but I have a difficult time picturing you as tender,” she chuckled.

“I’m not an easy person to like,” I replied. “I have plenty of neurosis, fears and I mask them all as best I can.” I shrugged, “It’s my way.”

“We all see through that clever façade. None so well as Paul,” she thought for a moment, “and maybe Jon as well. He’s got a funny way of reading you, you know.”

“He’s an odd one, that’s true.”

“What do you say we make something for brunch? I know they’ll be hungry when they get back.”

“Me? The kitchen? You know it’s not allowed, what if the press gets hold of it?” I smiled at her.

“You can drink the coffee,” she smiled. “We’ll just tell them you helped. Better yet, you can make a new pot!”

“You’re alright you are,” I replied with a grin.

*   *   *   *   *

So Charlotte cooked and I drank coffee, occasionally getting her an ingredient or something. She had me watching the water boil in a pot while she did something else and I began to suspect she was trying to trick me into cooking. She told me the pink carpet was ruined, and I did my best to look sympathetic. It wasn’t easy though, not one bit.

Pink is a color to be forgotten, please, shoot it now and put the rest of us out of our misery. Red is fine, purple is tolerable on some occasions, but please spare us from pink.

“So I am having this recurring nightmare,” Charlotte began.

“Does it have anything to do with me cooking?”

“No, it’s at the wedding and when the minister asks for anyone to speak or forever hold his piece, someone doesn’t hold his piece.”

“I’m sure I have no idea what you are talking about!” I snorted.

“Hey, you’ve seen Jon in a tux.” She raised an eyebrow at me. “You going to behave?”

“If I must,” I rolled my eyes. “Though I don’t see the point, not like I’m going to make off with your betrothed.”

“I’d appreciate it. Now when are you guys going to move up here?”

“I don’t think we have any real plans for that,” I replied neutrally.

“Oh come on! I’ll teach you how to cook, and we can gossip about how our spouses are in bed!’ she wiggled her eyebrows at me.

“There is something not right with you. Do you know that?”

*   *   *   *   *

“I don’t believe it! How did you get him in the kitchen?” Paul asked while snaking his arms around my waist.

“She said I could have all the coffee I wanted,” I snorted in reply.

“I got him to boil water,” Charlotte said in a stage whisper.

“You did not!” I harrumphed. “I watched it boil. Nothing more.”

“How did you do it? He runs from the kitchen if I open a cupboard that has anything more than a coffee cup or plate in it.”

“Well, I think I’ll take an afternoon walk. Plenty of coffee to walk off you know.”

“Would you like company?” Paul asked me.

“Oh no, you stay here and chatter a bit more. Maybe you’ll be done when I get back?”

He looked at Charlotte and they both said ‘No’ at once and fell together laughing. Unreal.

I passed Joel and Sasha, nodding politely and slipped out the front door. I walked down the drive way, feeling the breeze in the air and watching the trees shimmer in the summer wind. Small dirt devils danced on the drive way, giving way to the asphalt as I turned onto the main road going away from town.

It’s a quiet place with no pollution to speak of, not like the city anyway. Maybe that was something to consider, although I tended to like the hustle and bustle of the city at times. On the other hand, there was the good night’s sleep I always got here, perhaps because of the lack of hustle and bustle. But what if I wanted a burrito at two thirty in the morning? What then?

Now that I was alone with my thoughts once more, they turned inevitably to the lack of writing I had accomplished since the previous book was written. My mind was a wasteland, barren of ideas constructive or otherwise. Well, maybe that was stretching things a bit on the dramatic side. I still had the imagination to leer, after all.

Could Jon’s lack of homosexuality be the reason behind the death of the character in my mind? Could it be that, because I knew the real man, that the fantasy was null and void? What an ignoble death, to realize that if you are only a fantasy you are doomed to vanish before the reality as a dream does in the light of a new day. I guess the real question was if that vision was gone, if indeed I had no more story to tell there, did I have any other stories left?

That thought stopped me in my tracks. What if that was the only story I ever wrote? Could I handle that? What would be thought of me? What would Paul say? I ruminated on that very thing. I would hate to disappoint him, after all I have mucked things up so many times as it is. Would that be the straw, or perhaps, the support beam that broke us? Surely not. Paul has never cared for money except for the necessities. Sure, there was the Faberge egg copy, but that was a gift.

I glanced around me, at the area where I had abruptly considered the possibility my writing career was over. I had stopped in front of an old farm house. It was a rambling, Victorian-esque structure. One tall tower, squared off, rose from the center of the structure while a porch ran the length of the front of the house. Paint was peeling in places, lending a haunted air to the house. I think it gave it character, myself. The house was a bit on the small side for a farm house, perhaps it had been built later than the majority of the houses here.

Stephen King owns this strangely built structure, with a tower up front and small wings off to each side. It too has a haunted feel to it, in fact it looks like it belongs in a movie somewhere. He looks vaguely frightening as well, coincidence?

This house had the same feel, almost as if it had a life of its own under the peeling outer walls and broken windows. I walked towards the house, studying its features as I went. The paint was white at one time, weathered by the passing seasons and cracked from summers in the sun. Cracks showed on the porch, wood splitting where nails had been driven long before to secure them to beams underneath.

Who would have built such a house? I studied the surrounding area, the large trees ringing the house and the small shed off to the left-hand side. One of the barn style doors on the shed swung slowly, squeaking in the mild breeze. The bottoms of the doors were ragged as if they had been chewed from within.

I approached the property, taking in the dirt drive and the sparse grass valiantly growing in the barren yard. The house loomed, seeming to metastasize as I approached, its tower reaching for the sky hungrily as the porch clung firmly to the earth. I placed my foot on the first step and the wood squeaked as it slid against the nails that held it in place. The paint on the porch was blistered and worn, large portions of individual boards dry rotted. I glanced down, trying to gauge the strength of the portion I hoped would hold my weight. Was I about to discover the painful price of too many burritos consumed at two thirty?

Wood groaned and paint cracked, but it held as I walked to the front door. It was a carved door, clearly painted over several times. It reminded me of my own parents, of the front door to our house when I was a child. My father had purchased it for my mother as an anniversary gift one year. It too was carved and stained a dark color, circular patterns contained within squares marched the surface of the door with a small glass opening near the height of an adult. I traced my hands over the door and wondered again how this had come to be, and how it was allowed to deteriorate.

*   *   *   *   *

“Done woolgathering? Dinner will be ready soon,” Paul said to me as I mounted the steps to the house.

“No, I’m sure I’ll need to go out for another tomorrow,” I replied absently.

“What’s that gleam in your eye for?” He asked me as I walked past him towards the door.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m sure.”

“You have an idea, don’t you?” He said excitedly. I remained silent and took the stairs two at a time to our room, the yellow room. I reached under the bed where I’d stashed the laptop I packed without Paul’s knowledge and plugged it in. I paced the room as I waited for it to boot up and as I did so the ideas came faster and with increasing clarity. Notes, I needed to make notes now!

After what seemed like an eternity the little computer was ready to go and I sat eagerly at the processing program while stretching on the bed and began to type. I pictured Jon on the front porch, not as I had pictured him in the first novel, but now he was a sophisticated soon to be newlywed man who had to get a house in order, one that was his beloved’s wedding gift.

My fingers flew with ideas, notes and notions. I had discarded at least as many ideas as I had on the screen, and finally realized I needed to see inside the house, to grasp the layout and the smell, the rooms and the ambiance. I also wondered if there were a room dedicated to pepto bismol in there as well. I snorted. Would be damned funny if there were, I thought and added a note to include just such a nauseating room. I pictured Paul, as Jon’s friend, assisting in the house when they discovered…

*   *   *   *   *

I was tired when I walked away from the laptop, my brain having dumped months and months worth of ideas into the tablet; a veritable deluge. Yes, the dam had broken. Paul had wisely left me to my devices, no one had bothered me, and the words had flowed. It was far from done, more like a loose framework. I needed to see in the house, that much was certain.

After relieving myself, I headed downstairs to scavenge food. Jon’s mother was prattling on and laughter came from the porch. I felt oddly apprehensive as I approached the kitchen, oddly apart. I looked out the window, through the gauzy curtains, at the gathering on the porch. Sasha was lying back against Joel, sipping a drink and smiling at Jon’s mother who stalked the porch regaling them with a story of some kind. Charlotte and Jon were scrunched into a large chair, side by side. Paul was stretched on a hammock, lazily swinging and smiling at the story unfolding.

I felt so foreign, there. The whole group could exist without me, I wasn’t a vital component for their amusement or for camaraderie. I suddenly felt a stranger in a strangers house, an interloper. Glancing about I saw a covered plate on the stove which, upon further investigation, was full of whatever it was they had eaten that night. Snatching the plate and a bottle of water, I retreated to my yellow room and my notes.

After eating I fell into a fitful slumber, vivid dreams of weddings in pink rooms where I was excluded tormented me through the night. I slept lightly and was awoken about six. I struggled from the covers, sleep clouding my eyes and fogging my brain. I moved to the shower and made myself ready for the day, such as it was. I brewed coffee and tossed ideas around in my head for a short time, realizing that I really needed to see the interior of that house to further my ideas. I drank my first cup in one continuous swallow, my body not having rested well felt the need for the caffeine to infuse my mind and energize my body, at least for now.

I had completely departed from the previous story, from the city dwelling Manhattanite that had so enthralled readers the first time around, to the big city boy trying to fit into the local rural community. Not to mention the ‘haunting’ he thought his house was going through.

I headed for the front door, Charlotte was descending the stairs as I turned the knob.

“Am I seeing things? I must be sleepwalking. Is that you Dave?”

“Yes. You are sleepwalking. Return to bed post-haste before you hurt yourself.”

“Smartass,” she replied as she stepped onto the main floor and hugged me. “Paul says you got an idea.”

“I always have ideas, almost always lecherous. I have to run though, lots to get done. If Paul survives the shock, tell him I should be home by dinner.”