* * * * *
Marcy was looking at things from a different perspective now; post-(that serial cheating ass licker) Charlie, because she had yet to come up with a better viewpoint to deal with all the shit going down in her life, most of which was entirely out of her control. One of the more frustrating after-effects of rehab – following all that time alone to think – was a lingering penchant for introspection that persisted long after checking out. Nothing was as simple as it had been before; there was no escalating argument, then phone call, then girlfriend dishing/boozing/bitching session, then home for frenzied make-up sex cycle anymore, no familiar routine. Now there were three-way phone calls with legal counsel involved, no conversations without taking her lawyer's suggestions into account first. How exactly do you divide a life down the middle? So to speak; Charlie had promised her whatever she wanted. Of course, over the years, he'd promised her a lot of things. She just wasn't sure she wanted it all, as soon as she took pure spite out of the equation. If anything, she'd thought she wanted Charlie back, but she didn't know the person he'd become. Somehow, things had been less complex when a porno film crew had been disassembling her living room and freaking out her neighbors.
She was having a drink with Hank, and only Hank; something unusual in and of itself. (Well, technically he was having a drink and she was nursing a Shirley Temple, which he was uncharacteristically not ribbing her borderline questionable sexuality over. She'd let him suck on the Maraschino cherry to preemptively shut him up, and apparently it had worked. She just had to force herself not to watch him do it.) It wasn't their usual place, but then they only represented one half of their usual group, and were both currently trying to think of other things, other times, other people. The colors, the music, the clinking of the glasses, the wood of the bar; they were all different. She hadn't had a real change of pace since she'd gone drunken bar-hopping with Karen almost a year ago.
They'd been friends once, she thinks, before relationships inevitably got in the way and the Fearsome Foursome had created itself. Not that she was complaining; they'd had some times. Over a decade's worth, by now. But... hell, technically she'd seen him first, if you wanted to get petty and uselessly territorial about it. She'd just met Charlie a few months back, and they were dating regularly. He was good company, someone who felt like a friend and something more at once; he looked after her. Some things lasted, others didn't. He'd been raving about Hank's short stories, and had introduced the two of them at some dive in Manhattan.
She hadn't gotten a good look at him at first; it was more dimly lit in that hole than an Irish pub, Hank had his ever-present half-to-a-day's worth stubble hiding most of his jaw along with the goatee he'd eventually lost in stages before the move to L.A., and the shadow of some stupid hat falling over his face. She'd have blamed the cigarette hanging from his mouth for the subterfuge too, if the whole damn place hadn't already been filled with acrid-sweet smoke long before he'd sauntered in behind Charlie, immediately looking more at home than a skank with huge tits and borderline personality disorder on MTV. She remembered craning her neck back to a nearly painful degree to look up at him, watching the quirk of his lips form around the paper of his cigarette.
"So you're the genius writer I've heard so much about?" she'd asked, but it had come out sounding more like a disdainful quip. Maybe it was; she'd never admit to it now, but he'd intimidated her in a way that had nothing to do with the twelve inches he loomed over her with. Marcy took her diminutive nature in stride and thought of herself a bit like one of those angry, yippy little dogs that makes hell of the lives of those who don't submit to their will, and so in such situations, she went with the appropriate instinct and attacked the ankles, or whichever vulnerable part was closest. Which, in this case, would have been the ego.
Hank Moody had a smoky voice and smell, both in a mysteriously good way; a tall, lean body and a killer ass; dark chestnut hair that fell a bit long around his face in a floppy, boyish mess of a style he never seemed to want or need to run a brush through; a careless way of sauntering around that suggested lonely introspection and little self-consciousness, and a demeanor that too often matched his last name. Trouble with a capital T, or so her troll of a mother would've put it. Even back then, he'd had the wardrobe of a poor man's superhero; countless incarnations of the same shirts in various shades of black and blacker (with occasional appearances of navy or brown), a blazer, and probably 20 pairs of identical jeans. She'd found herself wondering later if he ordered shirts, cigarettes and high-quality Scotch in bulk. He had a strange gift for taking insults and innuendo common amongst thirteen-year-old boys and making them sound far cleverer than they were.
She'd gotten her first taste of that last particular talent the first time he opened his mouth. "Just Hank is fine. No need for the 'genius writer' qualifier, it's tattooed on my ass," he'd bit back, though not with any real hostility, maybe even with a bit of good humor. Hank could definitely be a douchebag on wheels, but generally not without some kind of provocation. Mostly. He'd surreptitiously leaned down a bit to negotiate the ridiculous height difference, and actually tried to hear her over the noise of the bar. Against a truckload or so of her better judgment, she'd begrudgingly decided she liked him.
"So, so? What d'you think?" Charlie had asked the next day, after dancing nervously around her, aggravating her hangover, while she read three of Hank's short stories that he'd made cheap copies of at the Kinko's around the corner, all stapled together and apparently originally produced on a typewriter older than she was. It would've seemed pretentious coming from anyone else. She'd reread the last few paragraphs about eight times, not that he needed to know that. It had felt like being punched in the gut.
She'd thought about it for a while. How to phrase this?
I think he's brilliant.
I think he'll make both your careers.
I think he's too smart for you.
I think he has a gift for poetic imagery and whip-crack dialogue, and at least ten other things you probably don't need me to point out for you.
I think you should run, not walk, to get him to sign something right now, whether it's a contract or your dry cleaning receipt, because it'll be worth thousands, maybe millions, someday.
I think he wouldn't know how to handle any of this professionally if a book deal bit him in the ass.
I absolutely do not have a thing for your hot mess of a friend whom I barely even know.
I think this won't end well.
I think this is going to change everything.
"Pretty good," was all she'd said, feigning an air of indifference while Charlie scoffed his disbelief behind her. There was, in the end, a lot she never said about (or to) Hank Moody.
A few weeks later, she'd gotten a bug up her ass out of nowhere to call a friend she'd made on the other side of town at an art gallery; they'd hopped from exhibit to exhibit together, sharing coffee and the typical New York cynicism with one another. Her name was Karen, and she was tall and exotic and disgustingly talented. That description was too close to being a female version of Hank for her to ignore the possibility of a good match. She was with Charlie, anyway; it didn't matter. Of course, Karen technically had a boyfriend, but she couldn't remember the last time his name had even come up in conversation, which meant he was as good as gone, though Karen probably wouldn't have admitted as much. She was an artist, though her talents existed within the clean lines of architecture and environmental consciousness; she lacked the propensity of artists like Hank for creating, navigating and describing a real, heartfelt mess in or outside of herself, for better or worse.
Apparently she'd miscalculated the importance of differences of the heart, or at least the ways in which they communicated. Hank wore his on his sleeve; hell, he only wrote from and about it, bleeding himself onto pages as if he had no other means of professionalism or survival. Karen wrapped hers up in dreams and concepts, remaking and reshaping it like the designer she was, and kept the core of it tucked away for safekeeping, rarely letting it be touched by the hands of others. Every little girl has that dream home they never built. Apparently, she wouldn't, or couldn't, let even Hank inside to help her lay the foundation. "His sun rises and sets on you, baby," she'd said once, but she was never sure just how closely Karen was listening (and they'd both been more than buzzed at the time). How she could blind herself to that so much of the time, Marcy wasn't sure, but there was no small amount of envy in the observation.
That was all hindsight, of course, like most things were lately. Three weeks later, Karen had called her from a 24-hour convenience store at four thirty in the morning, sounding sleepy and terrified and more neurotic than usual. But she'd become her closest girlfriend, so Marcy said, "Buy three, just in case. Different ones, shake it up. I don't trust that store-brand shit. At least one has to be something you've seen on network TV." Karen just said, "Okay," sniffling and sounding about ten years younger, and hung up before remembering to say goodbye. It was a bit of shock, to say the least. As far as she'd known, after she'd arranged for them to meet that first night at CBGB's, Karen had only been seeing Hank occasionally at best.
She could say it all went downhill from there, but that wasn't fair or true. If there was one thing Hank and Marcy did not share in terms of personality, it was a flair for the dramatic, in general or in the telling of a story. Hank was as in love with Karen as she'd ever seen any man, and for a couple of completely directionless fuck-ups, they handled her pregnancy surprisingly well. Karen glowed, and Hank revered her. They walked around New York hand in hand, talking for the pure pleasure of being together. They had a girl. She was beautiful. Marcy still remembered how it had felt to stand on the other side of that hospital glass, once they'd finally allowed her to visit, holding Hank up as best she could after he'd stayed up for over 24 hours, and waving at a wrinkly ball of pink and white and blonde fluff a few feet away and referring to herself as "Aunt Marcy".
* * * * *
The baby ignored her, of course, staring at the tiled ceiling instead, as though it contained the secrets of the universe, and she feigned offense.
"Your spawn has no sense of what is and is not awesome," she huffed, crossing her arms. "And she looks like a skinned peach that fell off the tree too early."
Hank laughed a tired, quietly happy laugh she'd never heard before, patted the top of her head easily and said, "The kid has a name, and it is Rebecca."
Marcy wrinkled her nose. "You'd better shorten that, or you're both toolier than my screwdriver."
"It wasn't my idea," he said quickly, but still with a trace of that laugh in his voice. He couldn't seem to stop smiling, his eyes crinkling in a sweet way at their corners. "It means 'to bind'. I could go for a screwdriver about now," he mumbled to himself vaguely, in that way he had of taking a pun or an entire conversation too far.
How much thought had Karen put into that name, she wondered? Hank was the writer, but still. "To bind," like an adhesive, or destiny; one of which Marcy was far too acquainted with professionally, the other in which she had no faith at all. Was that really all it took? She blew her why-yes-I-did-sleep-in-a-waiting-room-chair-now-fuck-off-and-die bangs out of her eyes in mock irritability and pushed the thoughts from her mind. "Tool."
He ruffled her hair in the way he knew most annoyed her, like petting a cat backwards. She wanted to hug him in celebration or punch him in the face, but was fairly sure she couldn't reach far enough to do either properly. "I'm too fuckin' tired to bicker about this with you, and am fielding all offers and suggestions for the next three minutes. After which point, I'll probably take you out in a spectacularly violent greeting with the floor," he added, yawning hugely and leaning on her a bit more.
Marcy bit her tongue at his suggestibility, surprising herself. It had been a year now, and someone in this group of miscreants had to grow up. "Becca's nice."
He looked at her for a moment, saying nothing, then turned back to his ball of fuzz of a daughter again. Chop off a bit to make it snappier, cuter, and it sounded a whole lot better. No one remembered it now, but Hank was the one who'd called her "Marce" first, so he could appreciate the distinction. She doesn't exactly remember when anymore either, but Charlie had picked it up from him, like so many other things. "Yeah, it is." The seriousness broke, and one half of his face curled up in a mischievous grin. "Score one for Auntie Smurf."
Smug bastard. "If you actually indoctrinate this poor, helpless child to call me that, they'll never find your body. I know people."
"Aw, come on," he chuffed, slinging his heavy arm around her shoulders. "What kid doesn't love an angry little Smurf? Granted, you're not actually blue, but I could hold your nose and we'd go from there."
She socked him not quite gently in the side, and he laughed again in that wonderful way. She secretly looked forward to familiarizing herself with the sound.
"I'm kidding," she said later, trying to reach around his waist as they walked back to Karen's room; her arm was never quite long enough to get there, despite his narrow hips, and accidentally groping the man's ass while greeting his newly crowned baby mama wasn't exactly Kosher. "She's beautiful."
"I know," he said.
* * * * *
She'd thought about it, of course, on occasion. Hank and sex. They went together like vodka and olives (not that she'd ever expect to see him drinking a martini). He didn't sleep around, not when he was with Karen anyway, but he seemed to ooze it in some indescribable way which, at times, could be rather distracting. Over the years, she'd learned to mostly tune it out. She certainly couldn't blame herself for having the thought in the first place, however long ago it had been; he had a way of getting in her space too easily and lounging around like a great big cat, inviting someone to come and pet him.
And, well, the four of them had almost swapped that one time, which had seemed like a good plan when combined with a healthy few hits of E and far too much liquor. She'd pretended the idea didn't excite her as much as it had, but he was hard to ignore. Particularly now that she'd seen more of his body (and vomit, as one of those scenarios had played out) than she was capable of denying, through no fault of her own. Hank was, after all, a master of attracting trouble that spread much further and wider than just himself.
Of course, a one night stand or anything remotely like it would never have worked; not then, and certainly not now. Hank was rudderless in a way she couldn't understand when Karen was gone, slowly knifing away at what was left of his deceptively large heart, which he protected semi-successfully with sharp-tongued barbs and plenty of things that were bad for the rest of him. He was more than capable of bedding a woman for one night and not only never calling again, but having a friendly conversation with her months later in public (which mystified her all by itself). Still, he had a dangerous habit of mythologizing said women as a means of feeding his strangely romantic ideals. Karen was The One, yet she drove him crazy, got him mad enough to make him yell (which was otherwise rare), was the blame for his vices yet ultimately his savior, was his writer's block and his muse. At times Marcy would look at him a bit sideways and wonder when the schizophrenia would finally set in.
Would it be a remarkably calculated way to get Charlie's goat? Oh, hell yes. But that wasn't remotely worth what it would cost her; Hank's friendship and his perspective. He called Karen the love of his life, which made Marcy ache in a way that wouldn't fix either of them. All she could do was pat his arm and say, "I know, mon," just to illicit that halfhearted chuckle that brought back some of the light to his eyes, if only for a moment. Karen, in her vindictive moods, when they'd both hurt each other until they were left to lick their wounds in opposite corners, refused to see that he wasn't a complete fuck-up. He was at least partially one, yes. Sometimes she couldn't help but wonder whether his secret superpower was to attract as many insane, damaging situations as possible while somehow surviving to climb from the rubble and snark another day.
But Marcy couldn't just turn a blind eye to the father he could be, and often was, so easily. The friend, the artist, the lover that flushed Karen's cheeks and seemed to make her glow from the inside. Karen was denial's mistress, but even she had cracks in that veneer. And even though she did share Charlie's bad habit of blaming everyone else but himself for his problems – maybe another thing she and Hank could ruminate about once the tab ran up a bit higher – she was caring, a well-intentioned mother, walked close beside her with a comfortable arm around her, called her Marsupial, and always remembered birthdays and made beautiful, personal things that tied in with inside jokes they could laugh over together. Marcy didn't want to lose her, either.
It wasn't something she thought about any more than in the back of her mind these days, anyway. It had been so long now. Becca had long since grown up to be a strange combination of both of them; she had both her parents' slightly monotonic way of speaking and had dyed her hair too, though not in indecisive colorful streaks like Karen had back in the day, but pure black. She had Hank's gifts for words, humor and capacity for love, and her mother's affair with music and weakness for her father.
They were all older now, still screwing up together, but it had been nearly fifteen years. She could still laugh with him, at him, crack jokes, piss him off, feel happy, flick drops of her drink at him, borrow his humongous jackets, call him "honey," insult him to his face, even grab him by the cheeks and kiss his pouty lips, and not think too much about it. Mostly.
"I know how it feels to be a gigantic fucking mess," he said suddenly, breaking a very protracted, familiar silence. Hank never did smooth words out, even for a friend. Scratch that; especially for a friend. "And how it feels not to even know how to begin fixing it." He was not looking at her. "I don't have any sage advice for you, other than to say that you shouldn't have to fall down the rabbit hole alone." He didn't say it, but she heard it anyway. I'm still here. I don't know where I'm going, but neither do you. It was strangely comforting. Misery did love company, but somehow she felt slightly less miserable now than she had in months.
She watched him chew on her cherry stem, miles away in his head, yet maybe closer than they'd been in years. His mind and his heart were both with his daughter, holding down the fort at home, and on her mother, a whole country away, because he'd let her go. She never thought she'd see the day, but apparently Hank hadn't lost his capacity for surprising her. But she could tell by his tone and his words that both those pieces of him were here in part, too.
She remembered him literally smacking Charlie over the head for the crap he'd done, hauling her out of a hotel bathroom before she committed aggravated assault, putting his arm around her, pulling gently at her and trying to keep her out of the escalating scene at Ashby's party, trying to protect her from getting hurt one more time. It never worked, but Hank never did know how to quit any bad habit, including sticking his hand out there for her, even when she slapped it back in his face.
"I know," she said.
* * * * *