In woodworking, a float is a tapered file that smooths key areas of wood by abrasion.
On Jesse’s sixteenth birthday, Mr. White passed back the first chemistry test of the year. The first test of the year, period. They hadn’t been back in school a month yet, and Mr. White already had the entire class filling out a blank periodic table for a hundred points, as punishment for Jesse, just Jesse, falling asleep.
Chemistry was seventh period, and by then Jesse was beat. Not that Mr. White’s condescending monotone helped. He did everything he could to stay awake — doodling over his notebook, counting ceiling tiles, physically holding his eyes open — but nothing worked. By two p.m., he was nodding off.
Mr. White was the kind of teacher you heard about well before you took his class. Most kids could tolerate mean teachers who made class interesting, or nice teachers who were boring, but Mr. White inhabited that rare mean/boring space that made him the most despised teacher in school.
Before the periodic table test, Jesse had heard a rumor that Mr. White used to carry around a super-soaker full of some liquid that smelled godawful, and when you fell asleep, he doused you. He was also the type to push the clock forward, empty the classroom of everyone but the one sucker who fell asleep, and drop a book in the hallway. Then the whole class would laugh while the kid checked the clock and scrambled.
There were other rumors, too, of stuff Mr. White used to do. Set kids on fire. Blow shit up. Melt, deface, or otherwise destroy school property. Order chemicals outside of the school’s catalog that he wasn’t allowed to have and that were, Jesse heard, illegal.
That was the kind of teacher Mr. White was. The kind everyone hated, everyone made fun of, but who you would remember your entire life, because no matter how much you gave, how hard you tried, he still expected more from you. And for years after his class, you’d hear his voice in your head whenever you fucked up — every single mistake, from dropping a glass to totaling your car — telling you none of it would have happened if only you’d applied yourself.
Mr. White dropped the test on Jesse’s desk, face down, and moved on. Back then he still had that stupid ugly mustache and wore sweater vests and shit. Jesse turned the paper over: a D, just a couple points above failing. The bad grades thing was new to him. Up until high school, he’d been As all the way. He also hadn’t had any friends because he was a fucking nerd who only cared about school and making his parents happy. He didn’t even masturbate until he was thirteen because he believed God was watching. He got shoved against lockers. Tripped walking down desk aisles. Called a fag more often than his own name. In eighth grade, a kid — Ben, a boy who had been his best friend for years — pushed him off the bus. Jesse’s head smacked against concrete. Concussion. Fractured skull. Sprained wrist. Spent two days in the hospital. Still has the scar, not that you can see it now among the others.
After that, his parents moved him to a new school district. Mr. White’s school district. Jesse decided he wasn’t going to be the kid he used to be. He wasn’t going to be a fag (a word he hates, a word he’ll never say for as long as he lives). The only way to stay safe was to stop caring — about his grades, his future, his parents, his dreams. Everything. When you don’t care about anything, bullies have nothing they can take from you. So Jesse found drugs and JNCO jeans. Became a stoner with too-big clothes and too-dumb speech. A background fixture. Invisible.
In red Sharpie, scrawled across the periodic table, Mr. White had written, SEE ME. What asshole graded with a red Sharpie? Made the D so big it was impossible for the kids on either side to miss it? Mr. White seemed way more interested in humiliating Jesse than teaching him chemistry.
The final bell rang. Jesse stayed behind. He would miss his bus and have to walk two miles in the heat, but Mr. White didn’t care about things like that. At home, Jesse knew there would be cake and balloons and presents waiting for him. Aunt Ginny would be there to give him his annual crisp fifty-dollar bill inside a tacky birthday card, hold him by the shoulders and tell him how much he’s grown, even though he saw her at least once a month, maybe more. For the afternoon, Jake wouldn’t be the center of attention, and Jesse could pretend to be their little boy again. Caring about stuff. Loving the people who claimed to love him. Then, once they were all in bed, he’d sneak out to meet his friends, light up, wander around town until three or four in the morning. He’d crawl back in just before the sun rose, get a couple hours of sleep, and start all over again. Newly sixteen and a little emptier than he used to be.
Mr. White set some beakers in the sink, not even acknowledging Jesse waiting for him. Finally Jesse said, “Yeah, Mr. White? You wanted to see me?” though it came out more aggressively than he’d intended. Belligerence, he learned, was never the tactic to take with Walter White, though that didn’t stop him then, and it wouldn’t stop him later.
While the beakers filled with water, Mr. White leaned against the sink, arms crossed over his chest. His face hardened in a way that made Jesse think of putting on a mask. Later, he’d liken the same expression to taking the mask off.
“I expect the best from my students,” Mr. White said. “All of them. Even deadbeats who sleep through class. Allow this to serve as a warning, Mr. Pinkman.” Pointedly, he added, “Do better,” and turned back toward the sink.
Jesse should have just shrugged it off, said fine, and walked away, but this guy didn’t even know him. Didn’t know what he had been through.
“Yeah, well,” Jesse said, “maybe if you made this shit interesting, I’d pay attention.”
Mr. White shut off the faucet. Went still. Didn’t turn back around.
“You just stand there,” Jesse added. “You talk at us. You draw your little shit on the board. That ain’t teaching, yo. If that’s how I’m supposed to learn, why bother showing up? Why not tape yourself talking and wheel the fucking TV in?” Now he was on a roll, and he couldn’t make himself stop. “Maybe some of us learn with our hands. Maybe some of us struggle to just listen to shit and suddenly know it. Maybe these tests —” He shook the paper with its big bright D on top, even though Mr. White couldn’t see it. “— aren’t proof we learned something.” Still Mr. White said nothing. “You don’t even ask us if we have any questions.”
Mr. White turned only his head, not enough to look Jesse in the eye. “Do you?”
“Do I what?”
That was when Jesse knew — whatever game they were playing, he’d lost. You never won anything against guys like Mr. White. And if you somehow did, he’d change the rules.
“No,” Jesse said.
“Well, then. You’re dismissed.”
Jesse had always assumed that Mr. White didn’t know how hated he was. It wasn’t until years later, hunched in a concrete pit, half-starved and freezing, that Jesse realized — Mr. White knew exactly how much his students hated him. But he didn’t care about being liked. He didn’t care if he taught anybody anything. He only wanted to be feared.
People who had known Mr. White before he became Heisenberg were surprised to find out he was evil. But Jesse had taken his class, and he had always known.
The Haines Farmer’s Market is held every weekend in a barn out on Fair Street. Most of the people who come through are tourists, but not the kind of tourists you’d see in Key West or whatever. Haines tourists are usually bird nuts, nature freaks, or people willing to kill themselves for the sake of adventure. Jesse doesn’t judge. They pay his bills. Rather, they pay a fraction of his bills, and he reports about ten times more than he earns. His booth isn’t quite the front the nail salon was, but every week he manages to deposit a few thousand dollars of the money tucked into Kandy’s duffel. A one-man money laundering front is slow business, but at least he learned from the best.
Todd was wrong. Keeping cash close is a bad idea. In another year or so, Jesse will have a six-figure money market savings account full of clean, taxed money. Then, he’s going to open an IRA. He doesn’t really know what an IRA is, how it works, or why he’d want one, but it sounds like something Joseph Driscoll would have. His banker’s name is Cindy. She’s blonde and wears red lipstick, tailored suits. She always slides him paperwork with her left hand, as if to display her blank ring finger. But Jesse hasn’t asked her out, and he’s not going to. He gave up any chance he had of a relationship, a family. Like Ed said, he made his own luck.
But there’s this guy. Jesse calls him the Fisherman. Tall, on the thin side. Wears a lot of flannel, denim. Got about a thousand ugly hats, from dirty ballcaps to Stetsons. Shaggy chestnut hair with some streaks of grey. Clean shaven. Long nose, misshapen and crooked like it’s been broken a few too many times. Kind of guy who blends in with the crowd until you look close enough, and then you can’t look away. Jesse wouldn’t have paid him much mind if it weren’t for the glasses. Black plastic frames, exactly like Mr. White wore the last time Jesse saw him. Something about the Fisherman just doesn’t sit right. He’s an incongruity. Jesse is always on the lookout for things that don’t make sense, and the Fisherman doesn’t make any.
Jesse gets to the market earlier than the other vendors, just past dawn. The Fisherman is always second to arrive, so Jesse helps him out. Throws down ice. Sets out fish. In payment, the Fisherman tells him to pick something out. There wasn’t a lot of fresh fish in Albuquerque. Just the frozen stuff at grocery stores. He didn’t think there was a difference until he seared up a salmon for himself. Now he’s a convert. He’ll never buy frozen again.
The first time the Fisherman visited Jesse at his booth, Jesse watched him pick up each item — wine holders, business card holders, candle holders, really Jesse’s store is just a bunch of things that hold other things. The Fisherman inspected each one like it was precious, held them delicately in his big, weathered hands. He was in full Canadian tuxedo that day, denim head to toe. Spring was just beginning to crack through the ice, and the market was at the tail end of its annual lull. The Fisherman picked out a small box, ash, with a Fleur de Lis inlay. Jesse’s favorite, his first design that was all his own. The one he's made a hundred times and never tires of. The one that he could build in his sleep, that feels like part of him.
The Fisherman looked up and said, “Excuse me,” like Jesse hadn’t been watching him the entire time with his breath held. “How much?”
It was thirty, but Jesse said, “Ten.”
The Fisherman passed over a ten. As Jesse slid it into his cash box, he asked — he still doesn’t know why; it wasn't like they were friends — “For your wife?”
The Fisherman laughed. Jesse had known him nearly a year, from a distance of course, but had never heard him laugh. He was pretty sure a sense of humor hadn’t been programmed into him. The dude never even smiled. Never asked questions. Barely spoke in full sentences, just grunts and clipped commands. And Jesse always followed them, because he’s not Jesse anymore, not the straight-A nerd at the bad end of a bully’s fist, not the firecracker drug user one line away from OD, not the silver medal meth chef bound in chains. He’s Joseph Driscoll now, and he always does what he’s told.
“No,” the Fisherman said, amusement hidden like Jesse wasn’t in on the joke. “No wife.”
It’s September now, Jesse Pinkman’s twenty-eighth birthday. But there are no balloons or presents, no card with a fifty inside. Nothing to celebrate. Joseph Driscoll turned twenty-seven in June, a day that slipped Jesse’s mind totally, until he handed his ID to a bank teller and she wished him a happy birthday. He said, “What?”
She tapped his license. “It’s your birthday. Did you forget?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Guess I did.”
Now, the Fisherman wanders over to his booth. Been doing that a lot lately, ever since he roped his nephew into helping him out. He comes around back and plops down into Jesse’s chair, props his boots onto a crate, and picks up a Jacob’s ladder. Took Jesse an entire month to figure out how to make one. He’s expanding into toys now. When he was a kid, everything was plastic and shitty, required batteries. Broke. It’s good to have things that outlast you, that you can pass on to your kids and grandkids, because they never get boring, and they never grow old.
“What’re you up to tonight?” the Fisherman asks. He turns the ladder. It rattles down.
Jesse busies himself rearranging stuff for no discernible reason. Always has to be doing something with his hands anymore. Can’t even watch TV without opening and closing the back of the remote until it breaks. “Nothing.”
“Let’s grab a beer.”
When Jesse looks up, the Fisherman is inspecting his face, tracking his scars the way people are usually too afraid to. Jesse has come to appreciate them. Like his old costume — the baggy clothes, the bad attitude — they keep people away.
But apparently not this dude.
“I can’t,” Jesse says.
The Fisherman’s eyes are light brown with a tinge of green, not quite hazel, Jesse notes uselessly.
“Just said you weren’t doing anything,” the Fisherman says.
The Fisherman gets up and places the ladder perfectly where it belongs. “No you didn’t. Meet you at the Fogcutter. Nine,” he says, and walks away whistling.
When Jesse first arrived in Haines — barely a week after he’d run away from the Nazi compound — he got a motel room. Place called Captain’s Choice, which told Jesse everything he needed to know about Haines. They asked for a credit card to put on file for incidentals, and Jesse pulled out his wallet, but it wasn’t his beat-up black tri-fold his dad gave him when he was fourteen, that had the expired condom in it and Jane’s senior picture, which he had stolen when they were looking through old photo albums. (She had dozens of them. He’d asked if he could have one, but she said she didn’t like them. Then when she got up to answer the phone, he’d slipped one into his wallet.) As he navigated the neat brown bi-fold Ed gave him, he hoped to god the MasterCard inside was real. It was one thing to memorize every detail of Joseph Driscoll’s life. Putting it into practice was another.
The check-in lady, an older woman who had to lean close to the monitor to read it, didn’t even look at him. She took his card, ran it, handed it back. A couple pages printed off and she marked with a pink highlighter where he needed to sign. Jesse Pinkman had written in a small, clear manuscript, so hard the ink nearly pushed through the page. None of his letters touched. He didn’t have a signature, really. He just wrote his name out the way he would anything else, and whenever he’d sign a credit card slip at a restaurant, Badger and Skinny Pete would heckle him about his little-kid penmanship.
He decided then that Joseph Driscoll wrote in cursive, barely let the pen touch the page. Illegible. The kind of person who wrote like that would be quiet, easy to get along with. Smart but not an asshole about it. He’d keep his emotions under control. He’d never cry. That’s who Joseph Driscoll would be: Even-tempered. Steady. Hard to read.
He signed like Mr. White did — squiggles slanted hard to the right. You could make out a J and a D but nothing else. His hand was shaking but the lady didn’t notice, just handed over his keycard and told him what time breakfast was. He thanked her and went to his room.
The room was all mismatched pastels and ‘80s decor, reminded him of Todd’s apartment. He sat on the bed. Buried his face in his hands. Could feel it coming on, familiar pressure behind his eyes. For the first time in years, he had hope. Walter White was dead. He was finally dead.
He should have been relieved, but part of him couldn’t help the grief that struck him. He thought he’d been through the worst of it, that nothing could ever be more painful than what he’d been through. He was wrong. Mr. White’s death killed what little of Jesse Pinkman remained, dissolved away in hydrochloric acid.
He was Joseph Driscoll now. Joseph Driscoll did not cry, and would not mourn the deaths of cruel men.
Joseph Driscoll is a man who wakes up before six a.m., no matter how little he slept through the night; who has a skittish pit bull named KT; who puts on his running shoes even in freezing weather and runs three miles; who makes avocado toast for breakfast, with turkey bacon and an egg white omelette; who obsesses over lowering his resting heart rate; who reads the morning paper and circles every craft fair and flea market he finds; who starts work by eight in the morning, buckles down, and doesn’t look up until noon; who runs his errands and makes friendly but distant small-talk with townies; who spends hours cooking meals he eats in fifteen minutes, just for the perfection of the task, the precision, the blank-mindedness of doing; who takes KT for long walks as the sun sets, without letting himself think a single thought; who works with his hands, works and works and works, until his shoulders ache and he thinks he’ll collapse before dragging himself to bed; who has to remind himself at least once a day there are no chains on his wrists and ankles; who tries to sleep but can’t; who closes his eyes and sees only a tarp flapping over iron bars; who lies awake every night listening to the ghost Walter White left inside him.
Jesse tells himself the Fisherman isn’t his friend — he doesn’t even know the guy’s name — and so he has no obligation to hang out with him. Goes over what he’s going to say next weekend, that something came up, it slipped his mind, he’s been busy lately. Quarter to nine, he’s eaten dinner, cleaned up the kitchen, and settled down for a night of shitty television. Joseph Driscoll doesn’t hang out at bars, let alone with strange men he meets at the farmer’s market. He is a woodworker who lives a quiet, simple life. He takes joy in his work, and he doesn’t ask for an ounce more than what has been given to him.
KT is watching him intently with her doleful eyes, like she’s stressed that he’s stressed. Sometimes he calls her a PTSDog because she’s terrified of everything, including her own tail. Any time he tries to teach her a command, if she doesn’t understand right away, she hides under a table in shame. She’s a good dog, though. Can’t hear well, but she comes when he whistles. Walks in pace with him. Never begs or barks.
But it’s clear she thinks he should go out. “Fine,” he says, and goes to change his shirt. At the farmer’s market, he wears a Carhartt over a canvas apron. But under that, Joseph Driscoll likes to dress nice. Button-down flannels rolled up at the sleeve. Dark wash jeans. Boots. Clothes so normal nobody looks close enough to see the scars. And if they do, they never look again.
At first he picks the red flannel. He looks himself up and down. He only has two mirrors: one hung up behind his closet door, the other in the bathroom so he can shave, but otherwise he keeps it covered with a towel. When he catches his own reflection sometimes, it sends him in a tailspin. He knows, logically, the person looking back at him is him, but also he doesn’t recognize himself. Years of drugs and months of torture took their toll on him. Joseph Driscoll doesn’t look like that in his head.
He decides he doesn’t like the red and switches to blue. Then the jeans and boots don’t look right, so he trades them out for their nicer counterparts, the ones he doesn’t wear for work. Then he wonders if he looks like he’s trying too hard.
Joseph Driscoll doesn’t much care how he looks. Jesse Pinkman cared too much — spent a half hour every day spiking his hair. Went on shopping sprees two or three times a year with Skinny Pete. Had hats and accessories and a million pairs of shoes. And watches. He was only just starting to get into watches when all the shit went down. If none of that had happened, he’d have a nice collection by now. Leather bands for everyday wear. Silver links for formal occasions. All kept in a velvet-lined wooden box in his dresser. Maple, maybe. No, white pine. And a glass inlay, so you could see them from the outside.
But Joseph Driscoll doesn’t make enough money to own a single Cartier, let alone enough to fill a box.
When he arrives at the Fogcutter, the place is already packed. Pool balls clatter over Patsy Cline on the jukebox. Christmas lights are strung up around carpet-lined walls. He spots the Fisherman at the bar with a beer in hand, watching baseball on TV. He’s wearing the same clothes he was earlier, and his profile is sharp and welcome in this strange space. Jesse can never tell how old the guy is. He looks thirty when he smiles and pushing fifty the rest of the time. Then again, Jesse’s probably the same way. No one would look at him and see twenty-eight.
“Hey,” Jesse says, looking behind him, taking stock of the patrons. Hates having his back to a room. The place reminds him of the Nazi clubhouse, sans massage recliners and couches around the big screen. He slides onto the empty stool beside the Fisherman and holds out his hand.
The Fisherman takes it. His hand is big and hard, a strong grip, and for some reason he thinks of Mr. White’s hands, which were rough and cold and frail-feeling. During chemo, his skin felt like paper. In those early days cooking in the RV, Jesse tracked and catalogued every brush of their shoulders and fingertips, every surreal interaction. His high school chemistry teacher, the guy who had been more than happy to fail him, was cooking meth with him in the desert and coughing up a lung. And even though he needed Jesse a hundred times more than Jesse needed him, even though he was only wearing socks, shoes, and a heinous pair of tighty-whities, he still managed to tear down any semblance of self-esteem Jesse might have had.
“What’ll you have?” the Fisherman asks.
What does Joseph Driscoll drink? Jesse Pinkman only drank beer as a concession, never got a taste for the stuff. Drinking gave him a headache, and he got stupider than he usually was when he was drunk. He preferred weed, coke, or crystal. If he was going to get fucked up, he wanted to do it right.
“Whatever you’re having.”
The Fisherman lifts his glass. The bartender sees him, nods, pours another from one of many taps. He passes it off to Jesse before moving onto the next patron. It’s dark, almost black. Jesse drinks through the foam. Beer still tastes like piss to him, but this kind is more like chocolatey piss. He decides then that Joseph Driscoll is a beer drinker, so he’ll have to get used to it.
He has never in his life hung out at a dive bar, listening to country music and watching baseball. It’s been so long since he’s hung out with anyone, he forgets what he’s supposed to do. Back when, he’d go over to Badger or Pete’s place and the first order of business was always to get as high as possible as fast as possible. Then they’d play video games until they passed out. Joseph Driscoll isn’t a user, though, and he definitely isn’t a gamer.
“You know,” the Fisherman says, “we’ve seen each other every week for a year now, and I still don’t know your name.”
His business cards say DRISCOLL WOODWORKING, LLC on them, with his cell number and email address below. No website yet, even though online orders could potentially speed up the laundering. Seems too dangerous.
“Joey,” Jesse says. Not many people have asked his name, but to those who have, he’s always told them to call him Joseph. Joey just slips out.
“Joey,” the Fisherman repeats with that smug glint again, like everything Jesse says is funny. Mr. White used to give him that look all the time, but there was something to the left about it. Condescending, like he was thinking, I know more than you, and I always will.
“Ethan,” the Fisherman says, and the left half of his mouth lifts up in the kind of smile Jesse has only seen in movies. “Ethan Weber. Nice to finally meet you proper.”
Jesse bought the first house he looked at, ranch-style, barely a thousand square feet. It had been foreclosed on during the recession and in the meantime had been stripped of copper and thoroughly vandalized. But it had a two-car garage, heated, with a workbench taking up the length of it. Above it, a window facing the mountains. His realtor insisted on showing him a few more places — bigger, nicer houses that hadn’t spent eighteen months on the market — but he couldn’t stop thinking about the workbench. A good, sturdy space where he could make things. He didn’t know what, exactly, but the option was there. Against his realtor’s advice, he bought the shit-hole, in cash, for the listing price. No questions, minimal paperwork. A week from the moment he set foot in Haines, Joseph Driscoll was a homeowner.
He had a mile-long to do list to get the place in livable condition, and an even longer one to make it somewhere he’d want to live. "Has good bones," Aunt Ginny would have said. The guys at the hardware store came to know him, which unnerved him at first, but it was good practice for the new way he talked (no slang, soft-spoken; longer, faster sentences than Mike, shorter and slower than Saul; not as smart as Mr. White but not as dumb as Pete and Badger), how he held himself (rigidly, back straight, elbows in), how he interacted with people (minimal eye contact, agreeable, extremely polite, kind of like Todd but he didn’t want to admit that). He knew the best disguise wasn’t in changing his face, but his attitude, his countenance. Though he tried to tell himself the hardware store was safe, that the likelihood of anyone spotting and recognizing him was low, he couldn’t make himself believe it. He had to stay vigilant at all times, note every security camera, assess every person, memorize their features and mannerisms, their interactions with him. On the way back, he always took a different route to make sure no one could tail him. Safe at home — the first thing he installed was a series of sturdy deadbolts and an alarm system — he closed his eyes and went over every interaction, picking it apart to make sure he didn’t miss something important.
He soon realized the inhabitants of Haines, Alaska, were not inquisitive people. At the hardware store, they asked only how his project was going and if he needed help finding anything. They gave him recommendations, tips for doing his own plumbing and electrical. Stuff most homeowners paid other people to do, but which Jesse insisted on learning himself, staying up well into the night watching YouTube tutorials and falling into abandoned handyman forums. He electrocuted himself a couple times and flooded the kitchen, but he eventually ungrounded his outlets and installed a new sink with a garbage disposal.
He took up the carpet and put down new flooring, installed marble countertops, bought top-of-the-line appliances. Shingled his roof. Sold the clawfoot tub that had been in the bathroom and put in a plastic one that hydrochloric acid couldn’t eat through, not that he planned to use it for that, but still. No detail was too small and no project too big. He worked twelve to fourteen hours a day. At night, after he had worn himself out, he would go sit at his workbench. Lay his hands on it. Imagine all the things he could use it for. All the things Joseph Driscoll could become.
No matter how tired he was, how much his muscles ached, he couldn’t sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he relived that moment. Walking into the clubhouse expecting to get whipped or beaten, forced to watch something horrible. But no. Jesse couldn’t process what he was seeing. Mr. White had lost so much weight. He had hair, a full beard. Those fucking glasses. He had come to rescue Jesse. To take his property back.
Something was off, though. The way Mr. White was holding himself. The harsh, stilted way he spoke. His ire was never so overt. His cruelty had always been subtle. A constant threat. Then he launched himself at Jesse. The sudden, birdlike weight of him. Deafening machine gun fire. Thunking of bodies being shot, like dropping pebbles into water. Those same bodies hitting the floor. The hum of the massage chair in the silence that followed.
He’d clung to Mr. White, gripped his jacket in his bound hands and tucked himself as close as he could. It was the safest he had felt in as long as he could remember, holding onto something familiar, something like home. That was the thing about being around Mr. White — when you stand beside the devil, it’s hard to be afraid of hell.
In all the noise, Jesse swore he heard, “It’s okay, Jesse. You’ll be okay.” For years, he’d believed nearly every lie Mr. White told, but he knew then that even if he survived, even if he somehow got away and lived a free man, he would never be okay again.
By his second beer — Guinness, he figures out — Jesse feels a bit more relaxed about the whole thing. Ethan, though it feels weird to call him that, doesn’t demand much in terms of conversation. Sticks to petty farmer’s market drama, who said this and who did that. The crafts community in Alaska is small, and everyone seems to work the same fairs. Not entirely different from the Albuquerque meth community, except people have nicer teeth, and it’s less likely you’ll get stabbed.
Ethan nods his head toward a now-empty pool table and says, “You play?”
He thinks of the pool table at the clubhouse. Beyond that, his mind skids to a halt. His memory isn’t what it used to be, doesn’t remember much about anything, until he sees or hears something familiar, and then a memory punches through his brain so vividly it’s like he’s watching it on TV. Sometimes it sweeps his feet out from under him, and he’s down for a day or two, lying in bed in the dark like he did in the pit between cooks. His mind totally outside of his body, looking down on him through the bars, indifferent as God.
“Not really,” Jesse says.
“Never too late to learn.”
They take their beers to the pool table. Ethan puts the balls in a special pattern inside the triangle thing and slowly lifts it off. “You want to do the honors?”
Jesse doesn’t know what that means. “You go ahead.”
Ethan sets the white ball down and hits it hard with a cue. The triangle formation breaks and the eleven ball goes into the pocket.
“I got stripes, you got solids.” He lines up another shot, but this time he misses. The fourteen ball rolls slowly into the nine, and stops. “You’re up.”
Jesse approaches the table. Ethan made it look easy. Rest the cue on your hand, hit the white ball into the other ones until one goes into a pocket, but don’t hit the black one. That’s for last. He knows because of that one movie he watched about pool. He’d been high at the time, so he only remembers Paul Newman. How good he looked. How cool and badass he was. Ethan reminds him a lot of Paul Newman. It’s the smile, he thinks. Perfect teeth. Bright eyes. Opposite of Mr. White in so many ways, but the result is the same — he makes Jesse want to be his best.
When Jesse struggles with the cue, Ethan says, “Here,” and shows him how to hold his left hand, make a bridge between his thumb and forefinger. Choke down to where the zig-zag is. Hit the ball straight, don’t wobble. Ethan leans close, and Jesse can smell beer and some kind of spice under it, like cologne. Just as he’s beginning to wonder why a guy like him would wear cologne, Ethan’s hand rests lightly on Jesse’s lower back.
Mr. White massaging his shoulders. Holding him that day in the desert when everything fell to shit. Steering him around like a dog on a leash, as if to show everyone, This one is mine. No drug on earth could match the high Jesse felt belonging to Mr. White.
Jesse hits the cue ball into the seven, which hits the four and goes in. It wasn’t intentional; he had been trying to hit the two. Ethan pats him roughly on the shoulder. “Good work, kid. You got it.”
For a long time, it felt stupid to be so obsessed with a wooden box he’d made in high school. How often he would think about that box, wondering what became of it. Someone, somewhere, had evidence that Jesse Pinkman could be good at something. Apply himself. He likes to believe whoever has it got clean, keeps it on their dresser to hold coins, keys, a sturdy comb. Looks at it and thinks about the life they used to lead and how they got away from it, but even that life, that drug-filled wild life, wasn’t all bad. Had good, kind people in it, who were all walking down a dark path they couldn’t get off of. Victims of a broken system. Pawns of greed-fueled kings.
He was a senior when he’d built that box, had survived his year with Mr. White. He’d failed chemistry, obviously, but was able to take it in summer school, taught by a young grad student from UNM, Monica, who was far more patient than Mr. White. She wasn’t trying to open something within Jesse, make him the greatest version of himself. She taught him exactly enough to pass the class so he could graduate. He appreciated teachers like that, who only wanted him to take one step forward, not run a whole marathon.
All through senior year, Jesse imagined going up to Mr. White and showing him the box. He didn’t know why, out of all the teachers who hated him and thought he was a waste of space, that Mr. White’s disdain had sunk itself so deeply into him. Sometimes he imagined shoving him the box and saying, “Yeah, bitch!” while Mr. White stared at him, stunned and ashamed for being so wrong. Other times, he imagined simply leaving it on his desk to wonder who could have made something so beautiful. But he knew that none of those things would have happened. In reality, Mr. White would have said, “So what? It’s a box.” And it was that thought — the knowledge that no matter what Jesse did, Mr. White would still see him as a pathetic loser junkie — that made Jesse disgusted by the thing, and eventually get rid of it.
Halfway through renovating his house, he got tired of opening and closing the door every time he had to haul something in. It wouldn’t stay open by itself. He used a rock for a while, but that wasn’t good enough. It didn’t look nice. It was an imperfection, a tumor that infected his visual field. At the hardware store, he spent nearly fifteen minutes weighing his options between the ugly rubber doorstop and the ugly plastic one, before deciding he didn’t want either. So he went to look at the wood, an area of the store he’d been avoiding.
He wondered how other people felt walking down that aisle, if it was just another aisle to them or if they felt like Jesse did: nervous, but in a good way, like seeing an old friend, and you know they still love you as much as they always have, even if you haven’t talked in a long time. Even if you’ve done awful things and fucked up your life beyond repair.
He picked out some pine, a two-by-four. As he put it in the cart, he glanced around surreptitiously like he used to when he was dealing, like he was doing something forbidden. Then he picked out a handsaw and sandpaper and a few other things he thought he’d need. He went to the only cashier who wouldn’t ask him for a project update, the young daughter of the owner. She liked to snap her gum, a sound that reminded him of bones cracking. Jesse Pinkman would have flirted with her. Joseph Driscoll doesn’t speak unless spoken to.
At home, he set the wood and saw and sandpaper out on his workbench. He hadn’t used it for anything by that point, not even to set his tools on. He got out a pencil and a level. Mr. White taught him to seek perfection, that things were only worth doing if you did them right. No room for failure with Mr. White. No forgiveness for mistakes. Jesse measured out a line on the wood at a thirty degree angle. He clamped it onto the workbench, put on a pair of goggles, and started sawing.
It was only as he was sliding the completed wedge under his front door — sanded down and shining with finish; a strong, sturdy thing — that he realized he hadn’t thought about the pit once while he’d been working. He felt lighter than he had in months. Hours later, he tried to brush it off as another project finished, but he couldn’t. He felt the same itch he used to get when he went too long without crystal or even cigarettes. A need to reach out and grab the nearest thing that would relieve it. But when he picked up his keys to head back to the hardware store, it was too late. The place was already closed. He looked up the other hardware store in town, the True Value, and that was closed too. So he looked up the nearest Home Depot: six hours away. The nearest Walmart: twenty-three hours away. Haines had a hammer museum but not a Walmart. Ed had really fucked him over.
What he did find, what he had somehow missed, was the giant lumber store five minutes from his house that had never shown up when he searched “haines hardware.” The next morning, he was waiting in the parking lot of Lutak Lumber when it opened. Walking inside felt like crossing through the gates of heaven, his first time shooting up with Jane, punching Mr. White in the face. At the lumber store, he had a purpose. He was a skilled craftsman. No past, no future. Only the smell of fresh-cut lumber, low hum of saws like choir. From then on, Joseph Driscoll was a woodworker.
Friday morning, Jesse arrives at the market later than usual. Against all odds, he managed to sleep two whole hours in one go, six to eight in the morning. When he woke up, KT was staring at him politely but expectantly, and let out a quiet, hesitant “boof” as if to ask where breakfast was. Now, the sun has already risen and most of the vendors are setting up. He walks past Ethan’s booth and nods at the nephew, who looks tired and unhappy to be there. Jesse finds Ethan helping Mrs. Samson set up her latch-hook rugs made from thrift store shirts.
Jesse sets his crate down and sees a steaming cup of coffee waiting for him on his display table, two packets of sugar and some creamer beside it.
“Didn’t know how you took it,” Ethan says.
Like beer, Jesse Pinkman wasn’t a big coffee drinker. Caffeine and crystal were a bad combination. On the rare occasion he wasn’t using, he lived on Red Bull and Monster. But Joseph Driscoll drinks dark beer now, so he should probably drink black coffee.
“Yeah, uh, black’s fine. Thanks.”
Jesse rushes to get his stuff out on the table, less than an hour until doors open, and Ethan asks, “Can I do anything?”
Joseph Driscoll doesn’t ask for or accept help. Joseph Driscoll is also extremely organized and punctual, and Jesse doesn’t know what he would do in the event of failing to be those things. It’s like meth, sort of. Anyone can follow directions, but only professionals like Mr. White know how to solve problems. That’s all expertise is, knowing how to fix stuff when it goes wrong. Jesse wonders if he'll ever be an expert at being Joseph Driscoll.
Ethan is wearing an ugly brown hat with a trout on it. There’s something ironic about it, though, like he’s wearing it not because he likes it, but because it’s ugly, because it’s the kind of hat the Fisherman would wear. A whole identity to put on in the morning and take off at night. And yet his eyes are always so bright and earnest, and even though he doesn’t talk much or laugh or give anything away, he seems happy, in a way Jesse has never known anyone to be.
He holds out a hand. “Give me your keys. I’ll get the rest.”
Jesse passes them over, body locking like Ethan is going to find something he shouldn’t. An unregistered gun. Bags of blue. A body. But the 4Runner is full of tools and wood. The most damning thing is a broken ABBA CD that was stuck in the player when Ed gave it to him, and Jesse had to wrench it out with a screwdriver.
With Ethan making trips to the 4Runner, setup takes half the time it usually does, and they’re left with fifteen minutes until doors open. Jesse sips his coffee and, like beer, wonders why people obsess over this stuff. He remembers Marie Schrader offering him coffee, and when he told her he didn’t like it, she made him hot chocolate. The real kind, on the stove with whole milk and cocoa and little marshmallows. Sternly, like a demand, she said, “This will make you feel better,” and Jesse was skeptical, because he was about to rat out himself and his partner, and everything was going to fall apart worse than it already had. But she was right; it did make him feel better. Just a little. Just enough to gather the courage to sit in front of the camera and do what he had to do.
When Ethan passes back the keys, Jesse says, “You can pick something out if you want. For your trouble.”
Ethan smiles in that way again, the one that makes Jesse think he’s watching a movie, that someone who smiles like that can’t be real. Deep dimple in the side of his stubble-rough cheek. Sweaty dark hair curling up under his brim. He tips up the ugly trout hat, smooths his hair down, and puts it back on, a gesture Jesse has seen a million times from a million different people, natural as breathing, but when Ethan does it, it seems trained. Intentional.
“Tell you what,” he says. “Let me take you out again tonight, and we’ll call it even.”
It’s not possible that a thirty- or maybe fortysomething fisherman from the Alaskan wilderness could understand the connotations of what he just said. But Jesse can’t deny the way the dude looks at him is anything but innocent. He knows that look. He’s given that look a thousand times, to cute, troubled women he thought he could save, but whose lives he fucked up worse than his own. And in some cases, ended.
Jesse glances into the dark abyss of his coffee. “I don’t know, man.”
He risks another look at Ethan, whose hands are in his pockets, and he’s standing a decent ways away, turned slightly. Nonthreatening. Jesse can say no, and nobody’s going to scream at him, hit him, point a gun in his face. Or slowly, over the span of many years, ruin his life out of a misguided devotion to family and narcissistic, power-fueled rage.
“I don’t,” Jesse begins. “I don’t normally do stuff like this.”
“Just because you don’t doesn’t mean you couldn’t.” Ethan nods to the cup. “You’ve got my number. Change your mind, give me a call.”
As he walks away, Jesse turns his cup around, and there it is. Seven digits scrawled up the side.
Four or so months after Jesse had bought his house, he was on his way to the lumber store when he saw a dog limping slowly down the road. It had snowed a couple nights before, and in all the white, it was easy to see the bright red trail of blood. Jesse kept driving. Every time he helped someone, he ended up making their life worse. Haines was a town of good people, and somebody would stop to help it. Joseph Driscoll looked out for himself. He kept his head down, stayed in his lane.
Jesse wishes he could say he forgot about the dog by the time he got to the store, but he didn’t. In fact he was so preoccupied by it that he couldn’t remember what he’d come there to buy, and ended up leaving without anything. He drove up and down the road where he’d seen the dog, and found the prints and blood, but they didn't lead anywhere. Good, he thought. Someone picked the dog up, took it to the vet, or a shelter. It would be fine.
At home, he still couldn’t focus. He had to know for sure, so he called every vet and shelter in fifty miles. No one had taken in a bloody, half-starved pit bull. It was well past nightfall when Jesse got his keys and went looking. He parked at the side of the road and went into the woods with a rope, flashlight, and some deli ham. He looked for hours, until he couldn’t feel his feet anymore.
When he found her, he was sure she was dead. She was lying on her side, and finally he saw her breathe, but it seemed to be a struggle, and ended in a high, pained whine. A gash had been cut across her left eye. He stepped closer and she bared her teeth and growled. She clearly wasn’t rabid, and she seemed too weak to do any real damage.
“You can hurt me if you need to,” he told her. “I’ve had worse.”
He set down little strips of ham in a path, then sat against a tree about ten feet away, and waited. It took a while. Long enough that his ears ached from the cold, and snow seeped into his pants and froze his legs. He closed his eyes and listened to the cacophony of the forest, birds fluttering and deer snapping twigs, crunching snow. There were probably wolves and bears around, but he didn’t care. All an animal could do was tear his body apart, but he’d already been torn apart a dozen times. There were worse kinds of pain to be afraid of.
Eventually she hauled herself up and limped toward him, lapping up the ham along the way. He slipped his glove off and held his hand out to her. She sniffed it and paused. He thought she was going to bolt, or maybe lunge at his throat. Suddenly she was in his lap, writhing and whining, licking his face, unable to get close enough.
“It’s okay,” he said. “You’re okay now.”
He carried her back to the car. She couldn’t have been more than twenty pounds, when her frame told him she should have been much more. He set her down gently on a towel in his back seat, and drove forty miles to an emergency vet.
While he waited, he scraped her blood out of his nail beds and prepared himself for the worst: she was beat-up beyond repair, and they’d have to put her down. It wouldn’t surprise him. Every beautiful thing he touched seemed to wither.
A couple hours later, the vet called him back. The dog was on the operating table, hooked up to some things, still out of it. The vet told her she wasn’t chipped, but that the scarring around her face and neck led him to believe she’d been a game dog, and had somehow escaped. She had a broken leg. Hadn’t lost the eye, but would never be able to see out of it again. The vet said she might not make it and, since she didn’t belong to anyone and the surgeries would be expensive, offered to put her down. He also made a comment about pit bulls being violent, which Jesse didn’t think was true, and wondered what bullshit vet school would let a dog racist graduate.
“I’ll pay whatever. Just make sure she’s okay,” Jesse told him.
The dog had to stay overnight. By the time Jesse got home, it was nearly dawn. He tried to sleep but, as usual, couldn’t, so he dragged out his laptop and started researching how to be a dog owner.
He went out and bought everything he needed, then picked her up at the vet, where she didn’t seem to remember him and growled a bit, but was too dazed to do much else. She had a cone around her neck and a little pink cast on her paw.
Those first few days, Jesse had to carry her everywhere. Feed her by hand. Give her medicine every couple hours. She was wary of him for a long time, but he couldn’t blame her. He knew he looked scary. Probably not so different from the guys who did this to her.
He came up with her story just like he’d come up with Joseph Driscoll’s: she’d lost a few fights in a row, and in the last one, she’d broken her leg. Some boss guy told some underling to take her out back and shoot her, but the underling couldn’t bring himself to do it, so he let her go, knowing she’d die of exposure, or get eaten by something bigger than her. No chance anyone would be dumb enough to pick up an angry pit bull at the side of the road. But it could be that none of that is true. He had to accept that he would never know her past, just like no one could ever know his.
Jesse spent hours every day holding her, petting her. Told her all the time how brave she was, to trust him when she had no reason to trust anybody. How she’d been made to do such awful things, but still found it in herself to be good, to love him. All she needed was a little patience and kindness, for somebody to see her for the gentle dog she was. Over the months that followed, her fear and anger subsided, and she grew strong, and all the best parts of her came through.
Jesse waits until Tuesday to call. Rather, it takes until Tuesday to get up the courage to call. Instead of putting Ethan’s number in his phone, which seemed presumptuous, he put the styrofoam cup on his workbench. While he worked, he kept looking at it, trying to figure out what this guy really wants from him, a stream of thoughts that invades him like one of Mr. White’s monologues.
“It doesn’t make sense,” Mr. White says, over and over. “What do you have to offer? Nothing. You’re no one. He doesn’t even know you. And he won’t, by the way. He can’t.” A long pause, so long that Jesse thinks he’s given up, moved on to wherever Mr. White goes when he’s not berating Jesse. Then, a final thought: “No one can ever know you, Jesse. No one.”
The phone rings twice before Ethan answers. “Was wondering when you’d call.”
“How’d you know it was me?” Jesse asks.
“I didn’t. That’s just how I answer the phone.” Jesse doesn’t know what to say to that. Ethan laughs. “That’s a joke. You know what a joke is, don’t you?”
“Number’s on your card.”
The thought of Ethan programming Jesse’s number into his phone well in advance of becoming friends makes his ears grow uncomfortably warm. But Mr. White is right: Jesse is no one. An Alaskan woodworker who keeps his head down and minds his business. There are a dozen other craftsmen just like him at the market. Why him? Why now?
“Then why didn’t you call me?” Jesse asks.
“I’m not gonna hound you, Joey. All I can do is open the door, and it’s up to you to walk through.”
A man who opens the door. Not a man who knocks. Jesse forgot people like that existed.
“Look,” he continues. “If you don’t mind getting up a little early, thought I might take you out on the water. Ever been fishing?”
He’s never even been on a boat. There might have been a ferry to Alaska, but he was trapped in a toolbox with a space heater at the time. “No.”
“Meet you at the harbor at five. Okay?”
A thought like a knife stabbing into his brain: Ethan taking him out on the water under the guise of fishing, only to beat him, rape him maybe, then tie something heavy to him and throw him over the side. Jesse has no evidence, but he knows the worst things happen when you least expect them. Always have to be on your guard, because every time you think you’ve lived through the worst of it, that you’ve seen the cruelest side of humanity, someone will find a way to prove you wrong. There’s no such thing as rock bottom. If you’re dumb enough to feel secure, something will come along to kick you down lower.
“If I can’t make it, will the door close?”
“No, Joey.” No amusement in his voice anymore. “The door stays open.”
Jesse was four when he started kindergarten, because he was born in September. Everyone else was five. He already knew the alphabet, how to read, and could spell his own name. His parents always wanted him to be the best, the smartest. He’d gone to an expensive preschool that had bumped him to a second-grade reading level. So he was the runt of his class, a little-little kid who talked like he was older than everybody else. Raised his hand for every question. Told on anybody who broke the rules. He liked being good.
Then he met this boy, Ben, who was five going on six. Ben was bigger than him, not as smart, and people avoided him because he smelled like cigarette smoke and his clothes were ratty. He was quiet. He sat alone at lunch. Jesse saw some part of himself in Ben, though he still doesn’t know what, and for a long time, they sat on the swings together during recess, not really talking.
Slowly they became friends, then best friends. Ben came to Jesse’s house but Jesse was never allowed to go to Ben’s, and Ben never explained why. Sometimes Jesse saw bruises on Ben’s skin. He asked about it once and Ben got mean, told him to mind his own fucking business. It was the first time Jesse had ever heard the word “fuck.” He didn’t know what it meant, but he could tell it was bad, and knew he wasn’t allowed to repeat it.
Ben’s parents divorced when he was eight. He changed after that. For as long as Jesse had known him, he was happy and funny, could make Jesse laugh until his stomach hurt. But then something darkened in him, and he started saying mean things to Jesse, about how small he was, how stupid he was because he didn’t know anything about “real life.” He made fun of Jesse’s bedroom, how clean it was, how many toys he had. He told Jesse how bad his art was, dumb little-kid cartoons. He cursed all the time. He said awful things about other kids, about how he would like to kill them if he got the chance.
Once, they found an egg that had fallen from its nest, unhurt, and Jesse wanted to climb the tree and put it back. Ben said, “The mom won’t come back if it knows the nest has been touched,” and Jesse wanted to tell him he was wrong, it didn’t work that way, but Ben stomped on the egg, and scraped the gunk off on concrete. Jesse cried so hard for so long that his mom had to come pick him up. He couldn’t tell his parents what happened. They already didn’t like Ben very much, even though he was always polite and well-behaved when he came over.
Maybe if Ben had been consistent with his cruelty, Jesse would have known to keep his distance. But Ben liked to pluck dandelions and give them to Jesse, and when nobody was around, he’d hold Jesse’s hand. He marveled at how smart Jesse was, how easy it was for him to get good grades. Ever since Jake was born, Jesse had felt invisible, but Ben made him feel seen. More than seen, Jesse felt understood. For all Ben’s teasing, he never made fun of Jesse for crying.
In sixth grade, Ben’s dad killed himself. Jesse wanted to be supportive, but he’d never known anyone who had died. Death was an abstract, distant thing he hadn’t much considered. By then, the bullying hadn’t begun, but only because Ben was the biggest, meanest kid in school, and nobody messed with him, so nobody messed with Jesse. After his dad died, he turned a cold shoulder to Jesse, and started hurting other kids. Pushing them around. Tripping them. Flicking their ears. Jesse told him he had to stop, he couldn’t treat people that way. But Ben didn’t stop. He started stealing things from kids’ backpacks, and then from convenience stores. When he got caught, Jesse’s parents stopped letting him come over.
Jesse did the only thing he could do, the only thing that would get the attention of the kind, funny boy Ben used to be. The thing that had been denied to him his whole life, but which Jesse had in spades. Jesse told Ben he loved him.
He knew there was a difference in love that ended in kisses and marriage, love that he felt for his parents, love that you feel for a brother. But he never knew what kind of love he had for Ben. It felt like every kind of love at once. He looked to Ben for protection and guidance, like he did his parents. Ben was close enough to be a brother. And he would be lying if he said he hadn’t thought of what it might be like to grow up together, and live together the way married people do, because Jesse couldn’t imagine loving anyone more than he loved Ben.
“What the fuck, dude. That’s gross,” Ben said. Jesse felt something snap inside of him. Something that could never be mended. Ben began hanging out with other boys, ones who laughed when he hurt other kids, who helped him steal stuff. And his cruel focus turned to Jesse. For the next two years, he made Jesse’s life hell.
It wasn’t one of those situations where Ben was secretly gay and repressing it. Last Jesse heard, Ben was a mailman with a wife and kid. Looking back, Jesse thinks his disgust had more to do with Ben thinking he didn’t deserve to be loved. That he’d been taught that love was a violent, ugly thing.
If only Jesse hadn’t said it, Ben wouldn’t have turned against him. Wouldn’t have pushed him off the bus in eighth grade. And Jesse’s parents wouldn’t have moved to a new school district, and Jesse wouldn’t have started using, dealing, cooking. Wouldn’t have met Mr. White or failed his class. And Mr. White would have had no reason to come to him asking to partner up. Jesse would be a different person. Lead a different life. He’d be who he was meant to be. Not one of the most wanted men in the country. Not the former biggest meth manufacturer in history. Not Joseph Driscoll, a scarred-up insomniac, living the rest of his life alone in Alaska.
When Jesse pictures fishing, he thinks of a rowboat, a couple poles, smooth waters. When he arrives at the harbor at five in the morning, he finds a big-ass boat with the name ROSE OF SHARON on the side in red letters. Not as big as a cruise ship or even a yacht, but definitely bigger than a row boat or canoe. Maybe even bigger than a sailboat, he doesn’t know.
He can’t help but think a boat like that on international waters would have been helpful back in the Heisenberg days.
“That’s it!” the Mr. White of his mind says, victorious. “That’s what we need. A boat. We’ll build a lab, Jesse. A new lab.”
“We can’t get a fucking boat, Mr. White. We’re in New Mexico,” Jesse would have said, but Mr. White wouldn’t have listened. And then, a day later, maybe two, they’d have a fucking boat.
Ethan comes up beside him with two cups of coffee in hand from the diner across the street. He passes one to Jesse. “Ready?”
He leads Jesse up to the boat and shows him around, spouts jargon Jesse can only guess at based on context. It’s the most Jesse has ever heard him speak, and there’s a cadence to his words that makes Jesse think he’s more passionate about all this than he lets on at the market, where he treats it like just a gig, something to pay the bills.
Like at the market, Ethan tells him what to do and Jesse falls into the easy rhythm of following orders. Soon an engine turns and they speed away from the dock and out into the bay. Jesse watches the water rush below them while mountains climb over the horizon line. They leave what meager civilization Haines offers and wading into new territory. No power lines out here. No buildings or street lights. No evidence of human life.
Ethan comes and puts a hand on his shoulder. For a second, Jesse lets himself return to his daydream of the seafaring meth lab, Mr. White behind him, proud of whatever work they’d accomplished that day. And Jesse would feel good about a hard job well done while also feeling terrible, because Mr. White was a bomb ticking without a timer, and Jesse never knew when or how he’d go off next.
Reality snaps back into place. Ethan. Fishing. Alaska. Walter White has been dead for over a year, and the world is a better place for it. Or so Jesse has to remind himself.
Fishing, it turns out, is not relaxing. It involves nets, a complicated pulley system, and sitting around drinking hot coffee, waiting for the air to warm up. Eventually, around nine, the sun blazes above them, and they have two crates of fish. Jesse had to take off his coat and roll his sleeves up. Somehow, the work is more strenuous than gutting a house and rebuilding it alone.
While waiting for their third catch, Ethan breaks out some chairs and pops open a cooler, where he has some sandwiches wrapped in foil and a couple beers. He chucks a sandwich and a can at Jesse, and Jesse says, “It’s not even noon.”
Ethan pops open his beer. “The fish don’t care, and neither do I.”
They eat. They drink. They don’t talk. The sandwiches are on fresh, crusty bread. Pancetta and dijon, too simple to be as amazing as it is. Even the Guinness tastes good, maybe because his body is aching and he’s starving, or maybe because he can’t imagine anything bad in such a beautiful place.
“So where are you from, Joey Driscoll?” Ethan asks.
A question Jesse has an answer to. “Army brat. First three months in Germany. A while in Idaho, Florida, Ohio. You?”
“How’d you end up in Haines?”
“How does anyone end up anywhere? Luck of the draw. Follow where the paycheck takes you.”
“You always want to be a fisherman?”
“Nope. Grew up a rancher, then sold the ranch. Not too much different than fishing, except one’s on water and the other’s on land. And fish aren’t likely to ram you into a fence post. How my old man died, god rest him.” He tips his beer toward the sea. “What about you? Always want to be a craftsman?”
“Uh. Yeah, kind of. Always wanted to work with my hands, I guess. Make stuff.” He rubs the side of his neck, a bad habit of Jesse’s that he’s been trying to force out of Joey.
Ethan frowns and plucks Jesse’s hand away, holds it gently in both of his own, a treasure to inspect carefully. Jesse wants to pull away but his body won’t let him, can’t get over the feeling of being touched. Ethan looks at the dumb, meaningless tattoo he got on his eighteenth birthday while he was high on crystal for the first time. That was the night he met Combo, who was dealing at a party, and convinced Jesse to ditch his other friends to go get high with him, and they met up with Skinny Pete and Badger. It was a wild night, the most fun Jesse had ever had, and he wanted a tattoo to commemorate it. So at two in the morning, higher and happier than he’d ever been, Jesse flipped through the stock images at a tattoo shop and said, “That one’s cool.” Back then, he thought everybody needed some ink, that he couldn’t prove he had lived until he’d been permanently marked.
Ethan turns Jesse’s hand palm-up, runs his thumb over the ugly callused skin around his wrist. The ones on his ankles aren’t as bad. But his wrists — for a while, in the days after Andrea’s death, Jesse wouldn’t stop yanking on his cuffs, running himself into the walls of the pit, bashing his head against concrete until he knocked himself out. He wants to believe he was out of his mind, but he wasn’t. He knew exactly what he was doing. When he came to, Todd was dragging him out of the pit with an uncomfortable makeshift harness, and brought him to a room at the back of the clubhouse.
“You can be doing this to yourself,” Todd said while tying Jesse to the ceiling. He’d been in this room before. This was where they’d beaten him. “You’re going to really hurt yourself. And if you can’t cook anymore…” He let the thought linger while he shoved a gag into Jesse’s mouth.
When he left, Jesse shrieked against the gag. Pulled on the rope until his skin chafed clean off. Eventually he lost feeling in his arms, and after a day it became difficult to breathe. He was almost relieved to see Todd return even though there was a whip in his hand. All Jesse could think about was the pain in his chest like he was suffocating. Todd cut the rope and Jesse screamed in pain as his arms fell.
“I want you to know,” Todd said, letting the leather tail of the whip smack against the floor, “I don’t want to do this. But you can’t keep acting out. You’re just making it bad for yourself.”
While Jesse was being whipped, a sweet calm came over him. He blanked out. Left his body. Watched himself from a far-off distance, a place beyond pain or despair. He found peace.
“That’s better,” Todd said sometime later. Jesse wasn’t sure how long he’d been out. Days. Weeks, maybe. “Now you can sleep in a real bed. See how much nicer things are when you calm down?”
The Nazis wouldn’t kill him, and he couldn’t kill himself, but part of him, he realized, could still die, and in that death was freedom.
“Not too many things can make marks like this,” Ethan says. “In fact I’d say there’s only one.”
Jesse tugs his hand back, crosses his arms over his chest. Very Jesse Pinkman of him, but he can’t stop himself. “I’m into kinky shit, okay. Sue me.”
Ethan isn’t smiling his amused smile; there’s something raw and real in his expression, and Jesse can’t shake the feeling that whoever he’s looking at right now is the real Ethan, the man under the ugly trout hats and Canadian tuxedos.
“Trust me when I say I’ve seen my share of kinky shit, and that ain’t it.”
Because the Nazis distributed their resources evenly, respected each other as a community, and wouldn’t kill children or rape women, they held onto the belief they had a semblance of honor. Todd, despite being the mildest and nicest, was the wild card among them. It took Jesse a long time to figure out that Jack didn’t know about Drew Sharp, and that the respect Todd had earned was due to his not balking at what they called “the dirty work.” Jesse never found out what exactly that meant.
At first, Jesse believed there was something wrong with Todd, that he was crazy, but after spending so much time with him, Jesse realized no psychiatrist in the world would commit him. They wouldn’t even medicate him. He was as steady as stone. Happy, well-adjusted, and many would see him as a kind and caring individual. He had a clear sense of self and a grounded sense of reality. The only thing he was missing was what Jesse had come to think of as the Line.
No matter what job you have, there are always some elements of it you don’t want to do, but you do them even if you don’t enjoy them. Jesse once had a job at a place called the Sno Shack, a tiny booth where he made snow cones for a dollar apiece. It was the first place he started dealing, passing out dime bags to drunk teenagers. He hated the saccharine smell, hated how sticky his hands got, hated counting out change, hated how fucking cold it was. All of that was bearable. Then he found the Line: cops started hanging out in the parking lot. Risk no longer worth reward.
If the owner of the Sno Shack handed Jesse a gun and told him to shoot somebody or he’d lose his job, Jesse knows for a fact he wouldn’t, because he knows that any human life is more valuable than an eighty-dollar weekly paycheck and an easy spot to deal. Later, though, he would cross the Line. He chose his loyalty to Mr. White over Gale Boeticcher’s life.
Todd didn’t have a Line. His purpose was to maintain equilibrium. Anything that might upset the careful balance of his world, no matter how small, had to be eradicated. Because it was in service to the greater aim of harmony, he felt no guilt over it. Or at least, not enough. Change was the only thing Todd seemed to fear; stasis, the only thing worth protecting.
After they buried the cleaning lady in the desert, Todd made good on his promise to keep Jesse cleaner and more comfortable. By then Jesse had become entirely Todd’s responsibility. He was no longer the favorite toy, but a tool to use when needed and discard at will. But to Todd, Jesse had remained a person, which is what scared him most.
In the middle of the night, after Jack and the rest had passed out cold, Todd would come wake Jesse up, bring him to the clubhouse, where there was a real shower with hot water. He gave Jesse a bar of soap, shampoo and even conditioner. He waited outside the stall, and as much as Jesse wanted to appreciate the warm water, he couldn’t help but think that Todd was going to get undressed and join him. But to make good on all the shy glances and mild flirting meant to get found out by Jack, and that would upset the balance of Todd's life, badly.
He never ended up making a pass at Jesse, or raping him, as much as Jesse was sure he would. What he did do was stand outside the shower stall with a towel, and dry Jesse off like a child coming out of the pool. Dried every part of him, down to each individual finger. Knelt down and got his feet, too. Then he would dress Jesse like a doll, and comb his hair.
“Now doesn’t that feel better?” Todd would ask as he positioned Jesse in front of a mirror. Jesse looked at himself and didn't see anything. An object, empty an useless. Something to be thrown away.
After, Todd would hold up his arms and say, “Come here.” Then he’d wrap Jesse in a hug and hold him tightly, for a minute or longer. “Must get pretty lonely down there.”
Jesse grew to hate Todd more for his bizarre kindness than for his cruelty. It gave him a spark of something hopeful, and kept him grounded in his own body when he only wanted to escape, find that peaceful place far away again. Something to hang onto to get him through his long days, knowing Todd would let him shower, sometimes bring leftovers from dinner. Cake, once, from a birthday party. And Jesse could pretend to be a person again for an hour or two.
But what he looked forward to most, what he hated that he loved, was Todd holding him. Despite himself, Jesse would cling to him and weep, while Todd rubbed his back and said, “I know it’s hard. But you’re doing a really good job.”
After their fishing day, Jesse starts seeing Ethan more. A couple mornings a week, they go out on the water. On the weekends, the market is business as usual, but after, they grab a beer at the Fogcutter. Ethan says Jesse is getting better at pool, but Jesse knows he’s not. He bought a Chemex, a grinder; he’s been researching coffee beans and experimenting with roast. He drinks two cups each morning. He’s come to appreciate a couple pints of Guinness at the end of a long day, the same way he appreciates the smell of sawdust and lacquer. The muscle ache after fishing. The strange warmth he comes home with.
But lying in bed, unable to sleep no matter how exhausted he is, Mr. White reminds him: “He’ll never know you. Not the real you. No one can ever know you again. And if no one knows you, no one can love you. These are the consequences of your decisions. Your actions. You did this, all of this, to yourself.”
Sometimes when Jesse looks up at Ethan, he’s expecting to see Mr. White, even though Ethan is nothing like him. Maybe it’s just the feeling Jesse gets around him, like his presence is too much, too bright, too dangerous. Jesse never knows whether to fight or flee. He only knows it’s a threat, this feeling, and the torch is on, pitched against the oxygen tank.
When Ethan invites him to a Veteran’s Day dinner with his family, Jesse says, “I don’t know, I’m not —” but he can’t come up with the rest of the sentence. Fit to be around normal people? “I don’t want to scare anyone.”
Or maybe he just doesn’t want Ethan’s family to think he’s gay, or that they’re dating. He can no longer deny that “dating” is definitely the term for what they’re doing, even if Ethan hasn’t confirmed it, and Jesse feels a little like he’s going crazy, wondering if maybe Ethan is just like that. A nice guy. Overly affectionate. Doesn’t realize he always looks and sounds like he’s flirting. The gentle teasing, long-drawn stares, constant touching.
The drive there is tense, and every time they hit a stop sign, Jesse wants to bolt out of the truck and run back. He doesn’t notice his knee is bouncing until Ethan reaches over and puts a hand on it. Jesse stops, but Ethan keeps his hand there.
“It’s okay,” he says. “They’re good people. You like kids?”
Mario Kart after dinner. Cereal before school. Tickle fights. Bedtime stories. Ice cream runs. Once, Brock woke up at two in the morning, rubbing his eyes with his chubby fist. Andrea was already in bed and Jesse was up watching talk shows and trying not to think about getting high to help him sleep. He asked what was wrong and Brock said he had a nightmare. Jesse got him the snack Aunt Ginny always gave him when he stayed up too late at her house: peanut butter on saltine crackers, a big glass of milk. Jesse flipped channels until he found a Disney movie, one of the old ones, Fantasia, and Brock was only three crackers in before he curled up at Jesse’s side and fell asleep. After he was out cold, Jesse carried him back to bed.
Jesse Pinkman wasn’t Brock’s father, but he could have been.
“Yeah,” Jesse says. “Sure.”
He finally gets the full story: Ethan’s sister, Martha, moved to Alaska to marry a naval officer stationed nearby. She had a son with him, Trevor — the nephew who helps Ethan at the market — but the guy was an abusive asshole, so Ethan flew up to help her out of the situation. He picked up his first fishing gig, and met a man named Roger, whom he then introduced to Martha, and five years later, Martha and Roger were married. Ethan stayed and decided to use his share of the sale of the ranch to buy his own boat, which he pronounces "Rosasharn."
“There you have it,” he says. “My whole life story.”
When they arrive, Ethan introduces Jesse to everyone as his “friend,” and the word feels sharp like a weapon. Jesse shakes a dozen hands and forgets everyone’s names almost immediately. He has a hard time keeping eye contact, finds himself ducking his head and shrugging his shoulders up. He thought he was used to people staring at him, that he was fine around crowds, but the party feels decidedly different than the market. There, wood is the only real topic of conversation available, sometimes the weather; here, he’s expected to say things that Joseph Driscoll would say in social situations. But Joseph Driscoll isn’t made to socialize.
He manages to retreat to the sofa where things are quieter. Trevor is disinterestedly tapping around on his phone, with no seeming desire to speak to or acknowledge Jesse. The house smells like good food and every wall is covered in framed photographs that blend into the wood paneling beneath — so many to look at, you can’t see any of them. Frames, Jesse thinks. He should start making frames.
Then a toddler begins crawling over his lap. Ethan’s niece. Sarah, maybe. She has little blonde sprouts for pigtails, and she begins playing with the buttons on Jesse’s shirt.
“What’s that called?” he asks. “That’s a button.”
She repeats the word. It sounds like “bun.”
He points to his nose. “What’s this?”
“No,” she says, and points to her own nose.
He points to his ears and eyes and mouth. He asks her what color her shirt is (blue) and what color his is (red). He forgets about the rest of the party, the noise and laughter coming from the kitchen, timers going off and ovens squealing open. When he looks up, Ethan is sitting on the couch where Trevor had been, watching him with his bemused, all-knowing smile.
“Come on, food’s ready.” He takes Sarah off Jesse’s lap, and Jesse follows him to the kitchen.
Jesse remembers a time where he couldn’t crack an egg without getting bits of shell all over the place, but things are different now. He’s good at cooking. He likes it. Maybe he shouldn’t be so soothed by something that reminds him of his time as an indentured meth chef, but he is. Cooking is a flowchart of constant logic. If A, then B. Once B, then C. When he was younger, he went at preparing food the way he did everything else: in a rush to reach the end. Never appreciated the process of anything, the doing. Only the end goal. He feels bad for all the women he slept with; he was definitely one of those dudes who only cared about getting off. Not that he’s ever been a particularly sexual person.
High, of course he liked to fuck. Hence Wendy. Sober, there was minimal draw. In the early days with Jane, when she was clean — that was probably the most and best sex he’s ever had. His first was a girl named Kenzie who asked him to Turnabout sophomore year. They dated for a month and had sex twice. She broke up with him because he made plans with a friend to try shrooms. Weed was fine, but she thought anything beyond that was only for junkies.
And then there was this party he went to when he was a senior. UNM. First and last time he tried molly. This couple may or may not have been the hosts of the party, and Jesse doesn’t really know how it happened, but one minute he was talking to them in the kitchen, asking if they had any Mountain Dew, and the next he was in their bedroom, making out with the girl, whose name he didn’t remember, while the guy stood behind her, fingering her, his hand around her throat, telling Jesse what to do and where to touch.
It was too much. Every place his body touched one of theirs felt like its own orgasm. After, he told himself nothing had happened with the guy, they were only there to share the girl. But he also remembers making out with the guy and giving him a blowjob, while the girl rode his face. The most startling and lasting memory of the whole night was thinking that the guy’s jizz tasted better than his own, not that it tasted good, but Jesse didn’t know his smoking habit would be made so apparent in semen. After that, he asked any woman who blew him not to swallow. Except Wendy. He was a dick to Wendy.
The thing is, it wasn’t a big deal. Maybe he should have had, you know. Internalized homophobia about it or whatever, considering how often he’d been called a fag. But he didn’t. He’d blown a guy, and it wasn’t that much different than eating a girl out, except one threatened his gag reflex and the other made his jaw ache. Maybe because he wasn’t attracted to the guy in the first place, and he could explain it all away with molly. But using that logic, he hadn’t been attracted to the girl, either. They’d both been hot in that distant, untouchable way that celebrities are hot. During the whole thing, he couldn’t help but think how cool it was and how good it felt, but if they hadn’t initiated it, it wouldn’t have even come to mind as something he wanted.
He remembers the sick thrill he got with Andrea. He met her, he went home with her, he kissed her. It was the fastest he’d ever moved, the most confident he’d ever pretended to be. He also felt the least like himself, like he was an actor in a porno, spouting cheesy lines about how much he wanted her, how hot she was, how good he’d make her feel. He thought she was into it, but looking back, she was clearly just being nice, playing along so she wouldn’t hurt his feelings. Or maybe so she wouldn’t piss him off. Jesse gets it, now. He knows how it feels to face the consequence of no.
The best sex they had was much later, after they’d gotten to know each other, and it became a slow thing between them, quiet and easy. He did his best to worship her tired body, make her feel as good as he could, out of love, yeah, but also out of the guilt that wound through their relationship like a snake in the brush. Guilt that’s still there. That always will be.
Jesse lays out his utensils. Prepares his ingredients. Maybe it’s stupid to make fish for a fisherman, but this is a recipe Jesse has been playing with for months now. It took him a long time to realize where the idea came from, and then he remembered — the fish soup Gus Fring made when Jesse went to his house. At the time, Jesse had been too worked up to appreciate it, but somehow through everything that went down, everything his mind buried, blocked, and stashed away, he remembered how much he really, really liked that soup.
Ethan shows up exactly on time with a six-pack in hand. He whistles admiringly at Jesse’s house, and says, “You do all this yourself?” which is the reaction Jesse was looking for and somehow, seeing his house through Ethan’s eyes, makes the tens of thousands of dollars and months of work worth it.
“Yeah,” Jesse says, what he hopes sounds humbly, and leads Ethan into the kitchen. KT risks poking her head out to see who’s here, and Ethan squats down to pet her, but she runs behind Jesse’s legs. “She’s shy.”
“What’s her name?”
“No, like initials. Kay-tee.”
Ethan glances up from his squatted-down position, Stetson tipped to the crown of his head. Extra Paul Newman today.
“From Mario Kart,” Jesse explains.
While Jesse finishes up the soup, Ethan sits cross-legged on the floor of the kitchen drinking a beer, trying to get KT to trust him by laying out pieces of kibble and talking nice to her. Jesse tells her, “You need to learn how to make friends,” and she looks at him disdainfully.
They eat at the dining table that Jesse has only ever used to hold the groceries. It’s fine, it’s normal, no different than any other time they’ve hung out, but Jesse can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. Ethan has never been a big conversationalist and he seems more than happy to share a good, easy silence, but this time the silence feels strained. Maybe Ethan has finally realized Jesse is a total nutjob and wants to break up with him. Then again, they’re not together, and Jesse still isn’t sure that’s the direction this is headed anyway. Jury’s still out on any associations with the cartel or Jack’s crew or Fring’s former employees — there are about a thousand people who would want to take revenge on Jesse, who might put out a hit on him or capture him again or whatever else.
Then again, that would mean the fisherman stuff is fake, and the family is fake, and what’s the point of putting all this time and energy into befriending Jesse, only to maim or murder him?
Ethan helps with the dishes and asks if he can see Jesse’s studio. Jesse takes him to the garage, which is now so full of stuff his 4Runner doesn’t fit in it. He’s working on building a carport.
“What’s all this?” Ethan asks, pointing to some canvases leaning against a wall and an unused box of art supplies.
“Oh, uh. Nothing. Just trying some new things.” He’d seen an ad in the paper for a closeout sale at an art supply store, and accidentally went on a shopping spree while he was there, but by the time he got home, he lost faith in the idea. Didn’t know what to paint or how to paint. So all his unused supplies have just been sitting there, sad.
“You an artist?”
“No. God no, just. Dabbling, I guess.”
Ethan makes an affirmative but skeptical sound that says the conversation isn’t over. Jesse is leaning against the workbench watching Ethan inspect his circle saw and saw horses and stacks upon stacks of lumber, like he’s in a museum. Finally, when he's done, he ends up right next to Jesse, too close.
“I think it’s time we talk.”
“We talk all the time,” Jesse says.
“Don’t play coy with me. You know what I mean.”
Jesse does know, but he doesn’t know how to have it or what to say.
“I think I’ve made my intentions pretty clear,” Ethan says. “But maybe not. So I’ll just say it. Joey, I’d like to be with you.”
Nothing in any of Ed’s files mentioned Joseph Driscoll’s past relationships or sexuality. Maybe Ed assumed Jesse wouldn’t be stupid enough to get close to anybody.
“I’m not —” Jesse looks down at his feet. “I’m not gay. I’m sorry.”
He wasn’t sure what he’d been expecting, but laughter isn’t it. Ethan sets down his beer, takes Jesse’s beer and sets it down too. Steps in close. “Tell you what. We’ll make a deal. I’m going to kiss you, and if it’s not the best damn kiss of your life, I’ll lay off, alright? Just friends.”
Jesse’s voice wavers. “And if it is?”
“You know the answer to that.” Ethan tips Jesse’s chin up and presses their lips together. For a second, Jesse slips into his old self, skittish, about to get pushy and defensive, but then he remembers Joseph Driscoll is supposed to be easygoing. Mild. Ethan’s mouth is so much bigger and more demanding than what he’s used to. Jesse wonders if this is how it would have felt to kiss Mr. White. Not that he ever wanted to but — he guesses he would have preferred it to beating the shit out of each other as often as they did. Mr. White never made a pass at him, not overtly anyway, but Jesse can’t deny there was something deeply libidinal in everything he did. The way he touched Jesse, the way he looked at him. Jesse never knew if the guy was going to clock him or bend him over something.
By the time Ethan pulls away, Jesse feels like his limbs might slip off his body. His mouth is buzzing with the rough scrape of Ethan’s stubble. He hasn’t felt this way since Jane, that first too-eager kiss that told Jesse she was the one, if not forever then for a long while. He’d never felt that security, that slotting of something important into place, and he hadn’t felt it again after. Until now.
“It’s a tie,” Jesse says.
“Well, then.” Ethan tugs at Jesse’s belt. He kisses Jesse’s jaw, his neck. “Pick your tie-breaker.”
He pulls Ethan’s hand away. “No, stop.”
And Ethan does, immediately, takes a whole step back. Without the dumb hat and glasses, he looks different. Boyish. Almost younger than Jesse. Strangely whimsical and overly trusting. Who would he have become somewhere else? Jesse imagines him in a suit and tie, lounging at poolsides, on magazine covers or in boardrooms. But maybe he would have been miserable in those places. Maybe he’s only happy on the water, just like Jesse’s only happy at a workbench.
“I just,” Jesse begins. “I have some stuff to think about.”
Maybe Joseph Driscoll is gay.
Jesse sits in front of Ethan’s apartment for what feels like hours but is actually only fifteen minutes before he gets the courage to go in. He’d texted, Can I come over? and received a quick reply of Sure. Now here he is, getting buzzed into the building which smells like somebody is making curry, and he takes the stairs two at a time. Ethan is opening the door just as he approaches, and it’s not even closed yet before Jesse is kissing him. He’d come here with a lot of things he wanted to say, blinking neon warning signs about how it’s a bad idea to be in a relationship with someone like him, how he blanks out for days at a time, how he thinks if he stops working for even a second he’s going to shatter.
But all of that flies right out of his mind as Ethan sinks to his knees.
After, on Ethan’s bed, Jesse can feel him trace the scars down his back. He should be self-conscious, but he’s too busy wishing he had a cigarette. He hasn’t smoked since the capture, whenever Todd offered him a cigarette. It was tough coming down from that addiction, getting his senses of smell and taste back while sleeping three feet away from a bucket of his own shit and eating whatever food scraps Kenny dropped through the bars.
“You ever going to tell me what all this is from?” Ethan asks.
Muffled in the pillow, Jesse says, “Woodchipper.”
“Got too many limbs for that to be true.”
Jesse shrugs. “It is what it is, man.”
“Well,” Ethan says, “I hope whoever did this got what they had coming.”
Todd’s body between his legs, elbows flying, hands scraping at the chain around his neck. Jesse could feel the cuffs dig into his callused skin, his palms blister. He wondered, over and over, how he could do this but he couldn’t shoot Todd in the desert that day they buried the housekeeper. Jesse had the gun. No one was around. He could have killed Todd, buried him, and driven away. For months after, Jesse went back to that moment and relived it over and over, so many times that when Todd came for him, Jesse was surprised to see him. “I killed you,” he used to mutter while they marched into the clubhouse. “I buried you.”
Jesse remembers exactly what he’d been thinking in that moment, when he had the gun and Todd didn’t. Why he didn’t, couldn’t, shoot.
It was easier not to. He could have shot Todd and stolen the El Camino and driven off into the sunset, but what then? He had no money. Nowhere to go. No friends who could take him in without putting them in danger. And the moment Jack figured out what had happened, he’d send his men to hunt Jesse down, and send out some others to kill Brock and his grandmother.
Aunt Ginny used to say, “The fear you know is always better than the fear you don’t.” The pit, the torture, cooking meth twelve hours a day — he’d gotten used to that life. He’d forgotten who he was outside of it.
Then when Mr. White showed up, he remembered who he was. The bad guy. A killer. All of them were dead, yeah, but that wasn’t the reason Jesse found it in himself to kill Todd. It was because Mr. White was watching him. Around Mr. White, Jesse could do anything.
“Yeah,” Jesse says. “He did.”
Jesse tells himself nothing is different, nothing has changed, but the day after, he can’t make himself get out of bed except to let KT out. The next day is the same. He forgets to eat. Time jumps forward in hour-long stretches, a series of snapshots. He watches himself from the outside, vaguely concerned. He forgets to set up his booth at the market. Ethan calls a few times; they roll to voicemail.
The problem is, Jesse Pinkman has gotten everyone he has ever loved killed. The problem is, Jesse Pinkman died in the pit. The problem is, he’ll never feel closer or more in tune with anyone than he felt to Mr. White. So what’s the fucking point?
Maybe if Jesse were paranoid that Ethan knew about the meth, knew who he was, knew about the money; maybe if he was just using Jesse, or affiliated with Fring’s men, or the DEA, or the Nazis, or the cartel, Jesse wouldn’t be so bent up about it. He’d be afraid, sure, but he’d just pack up his things and go. Start new again somewhere else. But no. He knows Ethan is exactly who he says he is. He knows Ethan likes him. Might even love him.
But the problem is — he doesn’t. He loves Joseph Driscoll. And Joseph Driscoll isn’t real.
Mr. White perches at the edge of the bed, mouth contorted into a thoughtful frown. His brainstorming face, Jesse used to call it.
“Well,” he begins hopefully, “you could always —” A vague shrug, followed by dragging his finger across his throat.
Aunt Ginny was diagnosed with cancer right around the time Jesse graduated. Jesse was the first person she told; he’d been over to mow her lawn and weed her garden, and she called him in “to talk." He knew then something was wrong. Aunt Ginny could talk your ear off but she never really said anything. He doesn’t remember the conversation, but he does remember the beads of sweat that slid one after the next down his glass of sweet tea, pooling at the edge of his soil-dirty thumb.
Until then, Ben’s betrayal had been the most awful thing to ever happen to him. He believed there could be no worse feeling than losing your best friend. Aunt Ginny’s diagnosis and slow, painful death proved him wrong. Maybe if it had been a steady decline, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but it was a one-step-forward, two-steps-back situation. She’d be feeling better for days or even weeks at a time, before taking a sharp turn. It went on for nearly three years.
Her final days, she stayed in hospice. She pretended not to be in pain, but he knew she was, pain was so bad that her doctor managed to find her a painkiller that hadn’t been approved by the FDA yet, that had to get shipped in from Japan. Jesse’s parents and Jake came to visit once or twice, but they didn’t stay by her side like Jesse did. He was the only one there when she passed, and, as a pastor came to give last rites, Jesse was absolutely certain there was no pain worse than the early and painful death of the person he loved most. He thought for sure that life had to get better from there, because there was no way it could get worse.
Then, months later, Mr. White came along.
Years after that, with a gun pointed at Mr. White’s head just moments after the massacre of Jack and his men, Jesse couldn’t pull the trigger. Because of Aunt Ginny. Because, after all that had happened, Jesse still couldn’t imagine a worse way to die than the way she had died. Because there was a chance Mr. White would walk out of that compound and face death the way she had — slowly, in the kind of pain that even Jesse, who had been tortured within an inch of his life, couldn’t fathom.
Then, sitting in Badger’s Fiero: the radio announcement that Mr. White had been confirmed dead. Jesse felt nothing. He realized then that even death could not rid him of Walter White. That Mr. White had left something inside Jesse, a wound deeper than any his body had endured, and it would never heal.
He makes a list, because Joseph Driscoll makes lists. The first thing he does is visit Cindy the flirty banker and list Brock Cantillo as beneficiary on his accounts. He lists Ethan Weber as beneficiary of the estate, so Ethan can move out of his shitty apartment if he wants, or he can sell the house. Jesse will leave him the code to the safe, and Ethan can take what’s left of the cash.
No letters, he decides. The less said, the better.
Last item: he drives three hours to the nearest no-kill shelter, sits in the parking lot for nearly an hour, KT curled up beside him, watching him as she always watches him, like it’s her job to protect him. She’s a good dog. She’ll find a good home. And if Ethan wants her, he can come get her. Jesse didn’t want to leave him with the obligation.
Jesse Pinkman would be sobbing so hard he couldn’t breathe. Joseph Driscoll only says, “Come on,” and guides the dog inside.
He makes sure Ethan won’t be the one to find him. Calls a carpet shampooer to come Monday morning. Tells them he won’t be home so they can let themselves in. Small-town business, they do that kind of thing.
He scrubs down every inch of his house. Replaces a burnt-out bulb so Ethan won’t have to worry about it. Rakes the leaves in his backyard. He owns nothing of value. After, he sits at his workbench. Places his hands on it like he used to. The styrofoam cup with Ethan’s number is still there. If he were really Joseph Driscoll, he could have been happy here — in this quiet town, doing what he’s passionate about, with someone he could have loved.
He takes Kandy's .45 from the safe. Sits in his empty bathtub. It’s stupid that he fought so hard for so long to survive. He should have done this a long time ago.
His phone rings. Ethan again. He ignores it. It rings again. He silences it, but the screen still lights up the dim space. It stops. Jesse leans back. Then his phone lights up again.
He answers it. “What.”
Silence. Jesse adds, “Yo, what.”
“This Joey Driscoll?” Ethan asks.
“Yeah, man. What do you want?”
“You sound different.”
“I’m kinda busy.”
Another pause. “I’m on my way over.” He hangs up.
Jesse shuts his phone and throws it across the room. It hits the tile and the battery pops out. He should go lock the front door, but he knows if he gets out of the tub, he won’t get back in.
Fine, he thinks. Ethan can find him. Jesse tried to push him away, tried to warn him, but the fucker didn’t listen. Now he’ll learn, like Jesse has learned. Don’t get close to anyone. You’ll only watch them die.
Jesse jams the barrel under his chin. No, he read something about a guy who lived through that. He rests it against his temple. No, he’s right-handed; it’ll blast his brains over the bathroom. Nobody would ever be able to get it out of the grout. He could do it with his left hand, or he could contort himself to the other side of the tub, where the faucet is. He should have installed one of those fancy sideways faucets.
He puts the gun in his mouth. Metallic. Stretches his jaw wide. Whatever. Fine. This’ll do.
He slots his thumb over the trigger. If Ethan speeds and runs the stop signs — Haines doesn’t have stop lights — he could be over in five minutes.
“Go ahead, Jesse,” Mr. White says.
Shut up, Mr. White.
“If you don’t, you’ll make a fool of yourself. Like you always do. Because that’s what you are. An idiot. A weak, pathetic moron.”
No, I’m not.
“What was that?”
Jesse pulls the gun out of his mouth. Out loud, he says, “I’m not an idiot.” Louder: “I’m not an idiot.” Now he’s shouting. “I’m not! An idiot!” He points his gun upward, where Mr. White is looking down on him with pity. “You don’t know what I could’ve been. Who I might have become if you didn’t take it from me. If you didn’t ruin everything you touched. I hope you’re burning in hell, you sick, sadistic fuck.”
But even as he says it, he knows the truth: if there is a hell, Walter White would run the place.
That thought, that not even hell could punish Walter White the way he deserves, crashes through Joseph Driscoll’s composure. Jesse chokes out a sob. Presses his forehead against the warm barrel of the gun. He can’t do it. He can’t do it, knowing Mr. White might be down there waiting for him.
He hears his front door open. Heavy booted footsteps. “Joey?”
The footsteps stop in front of the bathroom door. The knob rattles. Jesse points the gun at the door. “I have a gun, bitch. Open that door, I’ll shoot.”
“No you won’t.” The knob turns. The door opens an inch.
He points the gun to his temple. “I’ll shoot myself then.”
The door stops.
“Joey,” Ethan says. “I know you’re hurting.”
“No you don’t.” His voice wavers. Tears drip down his face. Crybaby rat, they called him. Yeah, that’s what he is. “You don’t know anything about me.”
“Let me help. Come on out and I’ll fix us something to eat.”
“Just. Just leave so I can do this in peace, man.”
“You’re going to have to shoot me, because I’m not going anywhere.”
Jesse wipes his face with the collar of his shirt. He hears a clatter and a shuffling sound, imagines Ethan taking a seat just outside the door. Jesse taps his head repeatedly with the gun. Puts some pressure on the trigger. Squeezes his eyes shut and more tears leak out. He is in the pit. He is screaming against his gag while Todd shoots Andrea in the head. He is zipping shut the plastic curtain of some family’s rodent-infested house. He is beneath the coffee table at Aunt Ginny’s. He is hovering over Jane’s dead body. He is breathing through a ventilator in the RV. He is standing in front of Mr. White, agreeing to cook with him. He is being pushed off a bus by his best friend.
“You know,” Ethan begins, “thing about my mom is, she’s got a touch of a gambling problem. After my dad died, she found a guy, Isaac — nice guy, mind you, bit of an enabler if you ask me. Anyway, she convinced him to move down to Vegas.”
“Yo,” Jesse says. “What the fuck does this —”
“Now just wait. I’m getting there. So, she makes it in Vegas a couple years before she runs out of money, then runs out of retirement, then runs out of whatever anybody would loan her. Now the loan sharks are on her tail and Isaac finally pulls her out of there. But they never make it back to Cheyenne. Settle in a town called Rio Rancho. Little north of Albuquerque. Heard of it?”
“No,” Jesse says, but he doesn’t sound convincing.
“Anyway. She traded gambling for hiking. Not sure the logic there, but the addiction was the same. Escalated. Ended up mountain climbing. And while Martha and me agreed it was better than the gambling, we still didn’t like it much. Year or so ago, she took a bad fall. Nearly thirty feet. Isaac couldn’t take off work, and Martha was about ready to pop, so that left me to fly down and look after her. Long story short, she’s fine now. Well — walks with a cane, but she’s alright, considering.
“I was there a long time. Over a month. She got wheeled away for her final surgery, and I was waiting around until she got back. Had the news on. They were running a story about a kid on the run. Said he’d been held in captivity. Big meth operation. Biggest in history, they kept saying. Kept showing his picture, too. Real young guy. Good-looking. And maybe I wouldn’t have paid attention otherwise, but this boy was as beautiful as the day is long. That face, you could look at it and know, just know, whatever he did wrong wasn't much his fault. Got himself in a bad situation. Made some mistakes, some bad decisions. Wherever he was, I was rooting for him.
“I kept up with the story for weeks. They never caught him. Jesse Pinkman is out there somewhere. Hurting. And I hope he's alright. Hope he's found somebody good for him. Who sees him for who he is."
Jesse taps his forehead with the gun. Can barely breathe, terrified Ethan can hear it in him, the truth. “What —” he starts, but his throat keeps clamming shut. “What does that have to do with me?”
“That’s my point,” Ethan says. “It doesn’t have anything to do with you.”
Once, during the Vamonos days, they’d managed another 99% cook, and Mr. White popped open a bottle of wine. Jesse told him no thanks, he was sober, but really he just didn’t like it and knew he had to drive. But Mr. White never took no for an answer, never let anyone have tastes or preferences outside of his own, and shoved a plastic cup in Jesse’s hand.
It wasn’t the first or even last time they celebrated after a good cook, but for some reason it stands out in Jesse’s head as being the best. The best he’s ever felt. It had really gotten to him by then, the idea that he and Mr. White were the best at something in the entire world. They could make the purest, cleanest methamphetamine in the history of humankind. They would be taught in DEA conferences and trainings until the end of time. Alone, Jesse Pinkman was no one, but Mr. White had made him great.
Yet none of that seemed to compare to the way Mr. White had begun looking at him. Really looking at him. Like an equal. A partner. Jesse had finally earned a place in his gaze.
They were in some house in the suburbs and everything was quiet. For once Mr. White wasn’t lecturing him about anything, or asking probing questions that would prompt a motivational speech. It took Jesse a long time to figure out that even those were a ploy. They kept Mr. White a mile above him. When anyone under him succeeded, he could give himself the credit, and believe that as long as people did exactly what he said, saw the world from his perspective, they would not only thrive, but become worthy of his attention. If they failed, he could dismiss, condemn, berate them. It wasn’t money that kept Jesse by Mr. White’s side, but the constant threat of his disdain, the thrill of his pride.
Jesse nursed his single glass while Mr. White finished off the bottle. Instead of dropping him off at his car at Vamonos HQ, Jesse drove him straight home. The Whites’ house was dark, the driveway empty.
“See you tomorrow, okay,” Jesse said, but Mr. White didn’t get out of the car. Didn’t even seem to hear him. He had his brainstorming face on, and Jesse couldn’t begin to figure out what he was plotting. They had everything. Then again, Mr. White could climb the tallest mountain the world and still not think it was high enough.
“I have loved watching you grow, Jesse,” Mr. White said, smiling now, patting Jesse’s thigh and keeping his hand there. Heavy. “You’re special. You’re really something special. And what we have. That’s special too.”
At the time, Jesse thought “what we have” meant what they’d built together, Vamonos, their success. Much later, he wondered if Mr. White meant something else.
“You should come inside,” Mr. White said.
Jesse kept staring at Mr. White’s hand on his thigh, the tension climbing up his arm. “For what?”
“I’ve got whiskey. Good whiskey.”
What did he think Mr. White was going to do? Seduce him? Rape him? Kill him? But still, something in his body was screaming at him to run. To throw a punch. To curl up into a ball and cry.
“I shouldn’t,” he managed.
“Come on. I insist.”
Jesse had learned not to argue with that tone, the teacher tone, when he had no weapons at his disposal. He’d only lose and make an idiot of himself. “I’ve got —”
“You’ve got nothing, Jesse. Come inside.”
No matter how often he said shit like that, it still felt like a blast of ice water to the face. A round-house kick to the throat.
“Mr. White —” He thought he was going nuts, that Mr. White of all people couldn’t be making a pass at him. And for some reason it wasn’t the thought of Mr. White maybe liking dudes that threw him, but that he would never cheat on his wife. That’s the thing about men like him: they hold onto their honor like a rosary, counting off each thing they swear they would never do, while forgiving themselves for all the rest.
“No,” Jesse said.
In the dark, he couldn’t see Mr. White’s expression, but he saw him lower his head and take a deep breath. His hand was still on Jesse’s thigh, squeezing lightly. “I was wrong about you, Jesse.” Then he patted Jesse’s leg once more and got out of the car.
At night, Jesse can still hear those words echo. The way Mr. White said it — not positive or negative, not an insult or a compliment. A neutral observation, a realization, almost to himself. And Jesse will never know what he meant.
KT won’t stop licking Jesse’s face and crying. He’ll never let her go again. Ethan is driving them back from the shelter, and they stop to get McDonald’s. It’s hard to believe that Jesse hasn’t had fast food in years, when he lived most of his life on it. On the way, Ethan tells a long, meandering story about how, in Jesse’s absence, a new candle booth set up next to Mrs. Samson’s latch-hook rugs, and one of the rugs caught fire. Somebody put it out, but the fire department still came and it was all anybody could talk about the rest of the weekend.
They stop at a scenic outcrop. It’s cold, but there’s no wind, only the cloudless morning sky. They sit over a cliffside and share a large fry, eat their burgers and drink their shakes. KT sniffs around a few feet away. A huge bird — an eagle maybe; Haines is known for them — flies in circles overhead. In the distance, miles and miles of white-topped trees and mountain peaks. Quiet. Everything is quiet.