The word deficit is down to 893.
Not much to say today. Just two things:
“How was it last night?” Connor asked, taking a large bite out of an omelet.
Jon did not respond. The bed that Liza provided had been the most comfortable sleep of his life, but he was too mad at his brother and his brother’s friends to express any kind of joy in that moment in that Denny’s.
Connor and Bailey had met up with Jon that next morning for breakfast. Both Connor and Bailey were drinking water to cure the night prior’s dehydration, but Jon sipped on black coffee.
“We got home safely, thanks for asking,” Bailey said, slicing the edge of her fork into a waffle. “Anything happen while we were gone?”
“No,” Jon said, taking another sip and wincing; the coffee was hot. “I fell asleep.”
“Well,” Connor started, unsure where to go with the sentence but trying to fill the sullen silence with something.
He poked at Bailey’s waffle with his fork. Bailey smacked it away with her own fork. That was her waffle.
“What’re the plans for the rest of the weekend?” he asked.
Jon reluctantly informed his two friends that Liza offered for them to stay for the weekend too, citing the usual worry about drunk driving.
“Homegurl really doesn’t get Uber,” Bailey said, laughing. “I’d love to stay. Are there any planned activities?”
Jon didn’t respond. Bailey knew there were no planned activities.
Connor looked over at Bailey with a ‘he’s bothered about Chris and Heather still, isn’t he’ look. Bailey looked back with a ‘I’m not here for Jon’s negativity, but I also want to support him as a friend and as a person’ look. The two turned to Jon as he spoke.
“I have a better plan,” he said. “And it’ll work better than the last one.”
Connor laughed. They hadn’t had much of plan the night prior. Jon gave him an angry look, and Connor returned to his plate of pancakes.
“You two are still banging, right?” Jon asked, pointing at the two of them in turn with his fork.
The two nodded, munching.
“We’re going to use that to our advantage.”
More munching, but confused munching.
“How comfortable are you two with loud sex?” he asked.
They both voiced affirmation, Bailey louder than Connor.
“Bailey, do you think you can imitate Heather’s vocal tone convincingly?” he asked.
“Like this?” she said, as Heather.
She sounded more like Melissa Altro, voice of Muffy Crosswire on PBS’s Arthur than Heather, but someone listening through a wall might be convinced.
“What’s the plan?” Connor asked.
Jon took a long drink of his coffee and explained.
“Liza, come with us,” Paul said, motioning with his hand.
Liza, deep in a morning coffee haze looked around confused.
“I’m sorry, what? What’s going on.”
“We need you,” Paul said.
“Does Heather need anything?” Liza said, sipping her coffee.
Paul turned to Chris and sighed.
“Let’s get Andy, she’ll probably be just if not more helpful.”
The two started to walk away. Liza, offended, jumped off her seat and followed after, her robe flowing as she walked.
“I will not be played like this,” she said. “What do you need me for.”
“Ben’s out in the garden,” Chris said.
Liza picked up her pace. The two men were walking briskly.
“Which one is that?” Liza asked. “And come to think of it, which are you?”
She pointed to Paul. She was well aware of Chris’s role at this point.
“Friend of Billy and Heather’s,” Paul said.
“You or this Benjamin?”
“Me,” Paul said. “Ben used to date your nephew.”
“Ah yes,” Liza said, shaking her head.
She was never alert in the mornings. She tried to take a sip from her cup, but it sloshed around in the cup with the speed they were moving. She was actually surprised at how well the two seemed to navigate the house. Even Liza got lost from time to time if it was dark and she was drunk and alone and on cold meds and it was that one time in April of 2016.
The approached the door to the back yard garden. It was a sight plucked straight from Princess Diaries 2, plants of every shape and color, an elaborate series of hedges, a large water feature at the center, Anne Hathaway was there (in spirit). Paul put out a hand to stop them. In the distance they could the backs of Heather and Ben. In agreement with Chris and Paul, Heather had lured him out earlier that morning for coffee.
“You’ve gone and confused me again,” Liza said.
She was staring through the window with a pair of binoculars plucked from nonbeing.
“Why is the one with the moustache with my daughter. I thought this one was.”
She slapped her arm outward and mistakenly hit Paul in the chest. The motion concerned Chris.
Paul pulled waved his hand in front of the lenses, and Liza lowered the binoculars from her face. She offered them to Paul.
“See for yourself!”
“No no no,” Paul said. “We set this whole thing up. Now come with us and follow our lead.”
Paul opened the door and strode out. It was a comfortable morning, slightly chilly in the shade, but not enough to need a jacket. Chris handed Paul an empty ceramic mug, held one himself, and the three strode into the garden. ‘To stride’ may not be the appropriate word. They definitely moved with direction and confidence, but there was a significant amount of performative clomping on the behalf of Paul and Chris, much to the confusion of Liza. They aimed to be as noisy as possible.
“If you ruin my grass the gardeners will have your heads,” Liza whispered.
Paul laughed. A chill ran down Chris’s spine.
They continued until they were positioned two hedges and fifty feet away from Heather and Ben, unsure if they had yet been noticed by the two.
“The hell is that,” Ben said, swiveling around in his seat, nearly spilling his coffee. “Do you keep horses here?”
Paul leaned against a tall lamp post that marked the corner of the hedge, and Chris and Liza stood next to him, Chris excited, Liza still confused.
“So did you hear Billy last night?” Paul said loudly.
“During the party, or after the party once most everyone had gone to bed?” Chris said, matching Paul’s volume.
Liza gave a confused stare to the two and sipped her coffee.
“Once everyone had gone to bed,” Chris said. “When he was drunk and bemoaning his lost relationship with Ben.”
Ben heard his name and his ears perked up.
“Who else is in this garden,” Ben said, straightening his back. “Why did I hear my name.”
“We own all forty acres behind this house,” Heather said, pointing across the garden, the fields behind it, and a small patch of trees. “Could be anyone. No please, continue telling me about how you’re sad and alone.”
Ben did not respond. He kept his mouth shut and ears open.
“Oh yeah, it was obnoxious,” Paul said. “He just kept whining.”
“Nobody’s out there for me. I’m so sad,” Chris replied.
“I should have never broken up with Ben, and I’m still madly in love with him,” the two said in unison.
“Why don’t we walk around for a bit,” Heather said.
Leave it to Paul and Chris to position themselves poorly. She could barely make out their words save ‘Billy’ and for some reason ‘bemoan.’
“I’m not done with my coffee,” Ben said, pointing to his still full cup.
“Your moustache is stupid,” Heather said, yanking the cup out of his hands and pouring into the grass.
The gardeners weren’t going to like that.
“Let’s go look at some fucking flowers.”
She grabbed Ben by the arm and began clomp tromping through the garden.
“The hell is that,” Chris said, turning around to Liza nearly spilling her coffee with a blunt elbow to her arm. “Do you keep horses here?”
Liza took a moment to think.
“Not here,” she said slowly. “But I do believe I own horses on another property. Heather used to ride in elementary school but stopped after getting thrown like once.”
Chris nodded, the horse-girl energy finally explained, the tromp clomping not so much.
“They’re on the move,” Paul whispered. “Move.”
On Paul’s command the three unplanted themselves and rotated through the garden, Paul and Chris making as much noise as possible as a warning to Heather, Liza imitating the two, unsure why but beginning to enjoy herself.
“You know, what you’re talking about is pretty old news,” Liza shouted out unexpectedly.
Paul stopped immediately. Chris bumped into him.
Heather stopped immediately. Ben bumped into her. Heather had heard her mother’s voice. Liza wasn’t part of the plan originally.
“Was that your mom?” Ben asked.
Paul stared wide-eyed at Chris. Chris stared back just as wide-eyed. Liza imitated the two and smiled.
“I said, it’s all really old news!” she shouted. “As an aunt I can tell you that Billy has been pining for Ben this entire month.
Paul and Chris’s eyes widened. This was news to them.
“Correct me if I’m using the word wrong, but I would might describe him as thirsty for Ben.”
Chris covered his mouth with a hand to stop from laughing.
“You got it right!” Paul replied, louder than ever. “Thirsty is the perfect word to describe Billy and his ongoing lust for Ben.”
Ben and Heather’s jaws dropped simultaneously. Either her mother was really good at improv, or Billy had been spilling more to his aunt than his cousin, Heather thought. For the record, Liza was quite adept at improv, her all-female college improv group one several regional tournaments, but none of that was relevant for what she shouted bluntly into the garden was entirely true.
“Are they lying?” Ben asked.
It was very clear to him now that Liza, Paul, and Chris were somewhere else in the garden.
“I don’t know,” Heather said, legitimately unsure herself at this point. “I don’t see any reason they would have to lie.”
“True,” Ben replied.
He was still not entirely convinced.
“And I hear he really has a thing for Ben’s moustache,” Chris shouted.
Ben peed a little.
“Oh don’t get me started on that moustache,” Liza shouted. “Billy made some moustache-ride comment that no aunt wants to hear from her nephew.”
Paul and Chris stared at one another. Paul’s eyes said ‘I hope to god that isn’t true, but it also really sounds like Billy’. Chris’s eyes said ‘I know the exact episode of Parks and Recreation he stole that joke from’ and also ‘do I need to grow a moustache now?’. Liza stared at the two with a ‘do we leave now?’ look.
Words unspoken, the three strode, quietly this time, back to the house. As they reentered they encountered a robe-clad Billy holding a coffee cup of his own.
“Up so early?” Liza laughed.
“We do have guests,” Billy replied. “And this morning feels like a ‘coffee outside’ morning.”
He put in his earbuds and exited the house.
“Wow,” Ben said, taking seat on a bench.
“Wow,” Heather replied.
“It’s so sad,” he said.
Heather turned to Ben. This was not the reaction she was hoping for.
“That poor thing must be obsessed with me.”
This really wasn’t the reaction she was hoping for.
“Or maybe it’s cute?” Heather said, unsure what her expression to make.
Ben sighed loudly.
“I guess I might have to take him back,” he said in an overly-verbose manner. “You know, in a sort of charity way.”
Heather smiled, nodding.
“Yes, yes, I agree,” she said. “Just sixty-three cents a day. Perfect. Sarah McLachlan is shook.”
Ben wasn’t sure what to make of Heather’s reply, but was stopped short in his thought by the arrival of Billy.
“Heather, why would you taint morning garden coffee with this one,” Billy said, popping his earbuds out.
The bench was only fit for two, so Billy hovered. Ben turned his face to make his moustache as prominent as possible.
“Strong words from someone who doesn’t live here,” Ben replied.
“I might say the same to you. At least I have a familial relation,” Billy said.
“Familial or famil-evil.”
“That was terrible.”
“I accept that criticism,” Ben said. “And if you’re gonna sport boxers in the open you really should invest in a safety pin for the fly.”
Billy looked down in horror, closed his robe and left back to the house.
“Oh my god, he’s so into me,” Ben said, stroking the ends of his moustache.
Chris and Paul were lounging with Liza in the garden sunroom making that oddly warm chitchat that one does with one’s friend’s parents when Billy rushed past them hastily. The three turned to watch him as he exited.
“I thought we were supposed to get him in the garden too,” Chris said.
Paul agreed, getting out of his chair.
“I’mma tail him. You get Heather. Text me if things go awry.”
Chris got up and marched out the door. Liza remained in her chair, sipping her coffee amused and nonplussed.
“Ben, Heather! What are you two doing out here? Have you been here all morning?” Chris said, feigning worry.
Ben stood up quickly, looking back and forth between Heather and Chris.
“Oh, uh, no,” Ben said. “Haven’t heard anyone.”
Heather nodded to comfort him.
“We totally just got here,” she said. “It’s been very peaceful and quiet, especially since Billy just left.”
Ben nodded at Heather. He didn’t want Chris to know that they had overheard him speaking about him earlier, and he was glad she was playing along.
“Yup, full cup of coffee and everything,” Ben said, quickly raising up his cup that he had been holding at his side.
He put the cup to his lips and tilted his head back like a shot.
“Mmmm. All gone now though,” he said. “I do like me some iced coffee.”
“Yes,” Heather said. “Iced coffee in ceramic mug. You’re so quirky.”
She punched Ben in the shoulder and laughed loudly. Chris laughed back, finding it harder and harder to keep up the act.
“He is a riot,” Chris said. “A riot that should get out of the garden and back in the house!”
Ben gave a confused look, but obliged as Chris grabbed Heather’s hand and Heather grabbed Ben’s. Chris tugged the train to the door. They had finished their coffee, and Ben couldn’t think of a better reason to resist.
“Why do you need us, Chris?” Heather asked, over articulating each word.
“I need you because, lunch date,” Chris said.
“It’s nine,” Ben said.
“Pre-planning for lunch date,” he continued. “And uh, Ben…”
They opened the door and entered the sun room where Liza sat, still sipping her coffee, watching as though at a theater.
“Liza wanted to show you her fabulous wine cellar,” Chris said.
Liza looked from her daughter to Chris to Ben and back to Chris.
“Yes, indeed I do,” Liza said, standing up. “I wish to show the moustache man my wine cellar.”
She straightened her robe and began walking down the hall. Ben looked around and hustled after.
“My name’s Ben by the way,” Ben said.
“I’m aware, Liza said. “Now move quickly, uh, the wine could spoil.”
The two shuffled out of sight, leaving Chris and a very confused Heather. She started on Chris the moment Liza and Ben turned a corner.
“What the hell is going on,” she said.
“I’m trying to figure that out,” Chris replied, staring at his phone urgently.
Paul hadn’t yet responded to Chris’s request for a status update. Chris wondered whether it would blow their cover to call him. Heather smacked him on the head to get his attention.
Chris looked up from his phone.
“Well maybe you can answer. What’s going on with Billy? He sprinted through here like Ke$ha was on tour or something.”
“Oh yeah,” Heather replied. “He whipped his dick out in the garden and ran.”
Chris spat out coffee he wasn’t drinking.
“Accidentally, accidentally-” Heather started.
“How do you accidentally fla- aren’t you his cousin?”
“Boxers, robe, open fly. Ben thought it was hilarious.”
Chris took a deep breath.
“Did it work then?” he asked. “Phase one complete?”
“Yes,” she answered. “What’s going on with phase two?”
Chris texted confirmation to Paul.
“Well,” Chris said, still texting. “We were going to use the garden for both phase one and two, but if he saw you two in there already that’s probably shot. Plus- hold on Paul just texted me back.”
Chris read the text out loud ‘this house is a fucking maze. I’ve lost Bitchy Eagle 1.’
“Oh he’s probably in his room changing,” Heather said, grabbing Chris’s hand a heading out of the room. “Paul’s a fucking idiot.”
A warm tingle ran down Chris’s arm and through his body.
“The blacklight affects the wine less than other kinds of light,” Ben said, genuinely amazed. “That’s fascinating.”
“Isn’t it!” Liza said, shining the light through the cellar. “Have you ever read ‘The Cask of Amontillado?’”
“Well duh! Ben said. “Who hasn’t read Poe’s greatest short story? ‘Tell-Tale Heart’ stans, don’t @ me.”
Heather and Chris scurried through the house, physically running into Andy.
“Jesus Christ this house,” Andy said, catching her balance. “It is nine in the morning, why is everybody sprinting like Ke$ha is on tour or something.”
Everyone had a deep-seated love for Ke$ha and her diverse discography of amazing music.
“Everybody,” Heather said, out of breath. “Who’s everybody?”
“Well Paul was just running that way a bit earlier, Liza and the one with the moustache were running to the wine cellar? And Billy just about mowed me down a bit before Paul.”
“I thought Liza’s coke days were behind her.”
Heather grabbed her aunt’s arm and hurried onward.
“What’s happening,” Andy said.
She was not standing in an optimal orientation for the way that Heather had grabbed her arm. After a few yards off rapid sideways grapevine she shook Heather’s grasp.
“We need you,” Heather said, grabbing Chris’s arm.
Chris grabbed Andy’s, forcing her to spin once and continue with the train.
“Excuse me, I can walk like a sane individual,” she said, pulling from Chris’s grasp.
Andy stopped to wonder if this could be a manifestation of Liza’s child-leash use in Heather’s early years. Andy had discouraged the practice.
“What do you even need me for?” she asked.
Heather turned around to see that her aunt had stopped moving. Heather stopped herself.
“Chris, text my mother to get up here. She’ll probably be just if not more helpful.”
“I don’t have her num-”
“Let’s go,” Heather said.
The two started to walk away. Andy, offended, continued after.
“That is not a way to speak to your aunt,” she said, her tone one of mixed performative and sincere outrage. “What do you need me for.”
Billy rifled through the drawers. While he spent a fair amount of time at Liza’s he didn’t have a full wardrobe, which frustrated him. He was also frustrated with his interaction with Ben. And to top it all off, he hadn’t had his coffee yet. The whole morning was going poorly.
Billy yanked a pair of wrinkled black jeans out a drawer. They were black, so the wrinkles weren’t too noticeable. The pants weren’t skinny jeans by any means, but they were skinny enough that he had to lie on his bed, feet in the air, to fit them over his legs. As he shimmied his way into the stretch denim, he heard muffled voices outside the door.
“Oh, you two are the sweetest,” Andy whispered. “He really needs to a new relationship. Even a hobby would do. You saw how much he was drinking last night.”
“I just need your help finding my necklace!” Heather shouted, stepping into the room next to Billy’s. “I looked all night, and at this point I think I just need another set of eyes.”
Billy put his legs down and trained his ears. His pants were not yet completely on. Heather sounded like he needed help.
“Of course honey,” Andy shouted. “The more eyes the better. Except for Billy we don’t need him.”
Heather gave Andy a ‘stop being so transparent’ glare.
“I agree,” she shouted. “There’s simply too much underwear all over the floor that I would be uncomfortable having a male in here.”
Chris eyed the two, confused.
“Strike that, I would be uncomfortable having my cousin in here,” she said, loudly. “Exceptions include Chris, Paul, and women.”
As if conjured by his name, Paul turned the corner to find Andy, Heather, and Chris shouting at Billy’s door. The three turned in unison.
“Why hello there Paul,” Andy shouted. “Would you like to join us in looking for Heather’s necklace?”
“Why of course!” Paul replied.
The four piled into Heather’s room and shut the door. Heather turned the lock.
“Who has a deadbolt on a bedroom door?” Paul whispered to Heather.
Heather didn’t reply.
“So what does the necklace look like, Heather?” Chris asked, pressing his face to the wall between the rooms. “And after telling me, please detail your conversation with Ben this morning. He seemed frustrated, sexually.”
Heather joined Chris at the wall. Andy and Paul stomped around the room and opened drawers like two Foley artists after a long night of drinking.
“Silver chain, white pearls,” she said. “And boy was he sexually frustrated.”
Billy, midway through a second attempt to squeeze his pants over his butt, stopped yet again and lowered his legs. The voices were still muffled. He put his ear to the wall.
“Sexually frustrated in what manner?” Chris yelled bluntly.
His tongue caught the wall. It tasted mysteriously sweet.
“Oh you know, Ben,” Heather said. “Always talking about how the good one got away.”
“I can corroborate that,” Paul said.
Heather jumped. Eyes to the wall, she had not seen Paul sneak up next to her.
“The entire time we were in France he was all ‘Oh non. J’ai triste. Je ne passait pas l’opportunite de continuer etre petit amis avec Billy’”
“English?” Heather shouted in genuine anger.
“He said, ‘I’m so sad. I shouldn’t have passed up the opportunity to keep dating Billy’” Chris translated. “Except in really poorly constructed French. Ben didn’t really have a solid grasp on the subjunctive or the French language in general.”
“Is this your necklace?” Andy asked.
She held a blanket in the air.
“No,” Heather replied. “Remember, silver chain, pearls, and is that right that Ben is still madly in love with Billy?”
“Love, or whatever scrolling through his Instagram every night means,” Paul shouted into the wall.
Billy peed a little. Fortunately he had a change of underwear.
“Do we keep going?” Andy whispered. “Because I actually found your necklace.”
Andy held up a silver chain with gorgeous white pearls. Heather snatched it out of her hands.
“Holy fuck, I’ve been looking for that for months,” she shouted.
Chris and Paul shot dirty looks at Heather. Even if they wanted to continue, she had incidentally concluded their rouse.
“Well now that you have your necklace, why don’t we go to the wine cellar!” Paul shouted. “I hear that Liza is giving a tour that can’t be missed.”
The four exited Heather’s bedroom, Paul taking the lead. Heather grabbed Andy’s mostly-finished cup of coffee and splashed it on Chris, much to his surprise. Chris swore loudly.
“Oh no, your shirt!” Heather yelled. “It’s covered in coffee. Why don’t you go ask Billy if you can borrow one of his? I’ll take this one.”
Heather pulled Chris’s shirt off his torso and packed it into a ball. Chris stood in front of his friends and Andy smelling like coffee and oddly aroused.
“Good idea,” he said. “You can all go to the cellar without me. I got the tour last night.”
Billy pulled on his pants quickly, bracing for Chris as he opened the door without knocking.
“Hey Billy, do you have any extra shirts?” asked shirtless Chris. “Heath- I mean, I spilled coffee. On myself.”
Billy gave Chris a one over and tossed him a towel first. Chris wiped the remaining coffee off his chest and pulled on the basic grey crew neck.
“I heard you,” Billy said, staring directly at his now full-clothed friend.
“What you said about Ben.”
Chris scratched his neck, trying his hardest to feign embarrassment. This was a lot more acting than he was used to.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, staring anywhere but at Billy.
“My Insta feed every night. Now that’s just desperate,” Billy said.
Chris continued to look away from him.
“I’m not telling anyone,” Billy said.
“There’s nothing to tell,” Chris replied. “Sooo… You tryna get that dick wet?”
Billy contemplated the question of the century.
“I mean, I guess,” he said, his voice one of clear underplaying. “If he’s really that hung up over me, it’s only polite.”