100 Candles Chapter 2: Willie Nelson Wants You Back

by Sara Sakana

The morning after the doll croaked, Kenny checked out of his room at the Best Western. We figured if he was going to hang around for a few days to make sure the damn thing didn’t come back, and if we were going to be having as much sex as we thought we were, he might as well save some money and stay at my place for free. We ended up having not quite as much sex as we thought we would. And I wasn’t really surprised. Neither of us had slept more than ten hours in almost two full days, not to mention the fact that when we hadn’t been sleeping we’d been either eating or fucking. So the first day, we barely moved. We just sort of stayed curled together in my bed with the cool breath of the window unit humming over us, occasionally waking up to forage in the kitchen or order food or drowsily make out for a while until one of us fell comatose again. And then the next day I had to go back to work. Which sucked. A lot. Not the work itself, I don’t mind my job. Hazmat response at a chemical plant sounds a lot scarier than it really is, most of the time. Yeah, a couple of scary things have happened while I’ve been there. But unless there’s training crap or something catches on fire, leaks, or blows up, I sit around, read, work out, and/or surf the Web from eight in the morning till four in the afternoon and for this, I get paid eighteen bucks an hour. So no, the job doesn’t suck. Unless, of course, something catches on fire, leaks, or blows up, in which case it sucks more than anything in the universal history of suck has ever sucked but hey, there’s a bonus if I survive. Leaving the house while Kenny was in it? That sucked a lot. But when I got home, there were sandwiches and paper bowls of soup from the deli a few blocks away sitting on the coffee table, and there was Kenny munching his French dip, unabashedly helping himself to my WiFi, and checking his e-mail on the sofa. “Hey,” he said after a minute, shutting his laptop down and flashing me one of those brilliant grins I’d already come to love. “Got you a muffaletta and some tomato soup, is that okay or should I eat it for you and tell you to go get your own?” Which did not suck. *** “I gotta go soon,” Kenny murmured into my ear a couple of hours later, while Demolition Man played on the TV and the scraps and dregs of our dinner were scattered across the coffee table like ruins. I tightened my arm around his waist. “Don’t want you to.” “Aw.” I felt his lips on my temple, his fingers in my hair. “I didn’t mean right now. And I’ll come back. I will.” His hand slid down my back, fingertips crawling down my spine and up again. “Just got to go home and take care of some business and stuff, y’know?” I knew. This didn’t make me loosen my grip on him any. ***

He waited until I had two days in a row off. The first so we could have that particularly fulfilling sort of sex you only have on the eve of a ridiculously long separation from the other party, and the second so we could say proper goodbyes and not have to worry about me being late for work. “I’ll call you when I stop for the night,” Kenny mumbled into the side of my head. I nodded and grunted. That was about all the response I could offer with my face smushed into his shoulder. “And I’ll call you when I get home.” Nod nod grunt. “It might be a while before I can make it back down,” he said, petting the back of my head. I picked my head up just enough to unsmush my mouth. “How long is ‘a while?’” “After the first of the year, probably,” Kenny replied. It should be noted, to my credit, that I did not whine. “Maybe sooner if I can get my stuff done that I need to get done. But I’ll come back as soon as I can. Okay?” I turned my head and pressed my cheek against his shoulder, and for about ten seconds I had the strongest urge to say fuck my job, take me with you, I’ll go pack a bag right now, there’s enough room in the back seat for a bag of T-shirts and jeans and stuff and the surfboard can go on top, I can take the rack off my car, it’ll just take a few minutes, just please please please let me go with you, I want to go with you, don’t go without me. But I knew, logically, that wouldn’t be a good idea. At least not yet. So instead, I kissed him. *** Your shopping cart contains the following items: -Magic in Japanese Folklore (Paperback, English language version) by Ken Tachibana -Burning Frankincense and Sardines: Demons in Eastern and Western Mythology (Paperback, English language version) by Ken Tachibana -The Devil’s Messenger (Mass Market Paperback, English language version) by Shouichi Tachibana, Ken Tachibana (trans.) Please review your selection and click “submit order” to continue… Why yes, that would indeed be Kenny’s entire collected English-language works, plus one of his uncle’s novels! I’m guessing it was one of his uncle’s novels, anyway; the Amazon blurb made some mention of the author’s mysterious disappearance some years back. So unless there was some sort of epidemic in Japan of writers with the family name “Tachibana” disappearing into thin air (which would at least partly explain why Kenny had been so keen on staying in the U.S.), it was a pretty safe bet. If that wasn’t pathetic enough of me, I cruised by the page for Hook Man, left it a glowing review, and flamed the living shit out of an asshole whose review would have blacked out a Fundamentalist Wingnut Bingo card. He left nothing untouched, not even abortion or homosexuality and oh, I thought and almost put in that review, oh you sad sorry son of a bitch, if you only knew. I Googled him again in search of magazine articles, columns, another blog, anything, and found three Halloween fluff articles from last year and what had to be a fan page in Japanese. God help me, I actually went through every clickable thing on that page looking for fanart. Hey, I saw a fan comic about Alton Brown defeating his archnemesis Bobby Flay with the power of COOKING SCIENCE on

the Internet one time, I know what kind of crazy shit Japanese fangirls do. And as much as I like the guy and his mad cooking science, Kenny’s a whole lot cuter than Alton Brown. No fanart, although I did see one still from what looked like a talk show interview (which I saved, duh– seriously, he was wearing a suit, oh my God) and more than one post on the “bulletin board” that ended with “♥”. I suspected this might be the other reason Kenny didn’t put his picture in his books, and made a mental note to rib him about his fangirls. *** I saw Ray a few days later. This went better than you’d probably expect. Which isn’t saying much. I’d had enough of going to work and coming home and moping around the house, so I finally just said “fuck this noise” and went to the beach. It was …okay. There were actual waves most of the day, and the water wasn’t quite as gross as usual, which meant everybody in the entire world was there trying to surf. And unless you’re, say, Gary Fillmore and don’t give a shit about common courtesy, there is a specific protocol for claiming waves and waiting your turn and letting the other folks around you have a turn. After about two or three hours of this, it kind of starts getting old. And I was packing up to go home when I noticed Ray coming up out of the water and shaking wet hair out of his eyes. He spotted me before I could turn away and plausibly claim to have not noticed him. Fuck. He just kind of stared at me for a minute, mouth open like he was thinking about saying something, one hand rising in that lame little half-wave you do when you see someone you think you know but don’t want to embarrass yourself in case you’ve got the wrong person. I thought it was kind of stupid until I realized I was doing the same thing. Mouth and all. And then Gary popped out of the water right behind him, utterly failed to notice me, put a longfingered tanned hand on Ray’s bare wet shoulder, and said something into his ear. Ray finally broke eye contact with me and said something back. I heard a weird grinding noise and realized it was my teeth. God. Gary Fucking Fillmore and his ridiculously over-butch compensation tactics and his waterproof hair and his perfect tan and his rainbow puka shell necklace with the Genuine Shark Tooth Pried Out Of His Surfboard–and the hell of that part was, I couldn’t even call bullshit on it because I was there when it happened. Granted, it’s from a very tiny shark, and the tooth itself is so small he can’t actually string it on the necklace and had to seal it up in a tiny glass bottle. But still. Shark tooth. From his surfboard. Nobody could top that. But God help me, I was glad to see him. Because him showing up? Meant that Ray’s attention was off me and I could pack my shit and bail before he decided to come over and say something I might end up decking him for, something like “hi.” Maybe it was time to start going to another beach. *** I came home from work and found a big smiley Amazon box sitting on my doorstep a couple days later. I’d actually forgotten about the Amazon raid–that, or I’d just kind of repressed the memory of my ridiculous smitten fangirliness. Whatever. I read the one about magic in one sitting, with a break to heat up some pizza halfway through. That was his first, and it was a bit shorter than the other two. I got about a quarter of the way through the one

about demons before I had to go to bed, and then I got suckered into the first two or three chapters of the novel because I just couldn’t resist the urge to take a peek. I figured the novel would get the least amount of weird looks in my direction at work, so I tucked it into my backpack and carted it with me for the next two days. The plot was your standard “delicate flower of a female protagonist is trapped in a boogums-infested house and must put a vengeful spirit to rest” story, nothing groundbreaking there. An American movie adaptation would have been right at home hanging out on the DVD shelf with The Ring and The Grudge and Dark Water and whatever other Japanese horror flicks with female leads wandered stateside. The writing itself was awesome, though. Kenny might not have been good at making shit up but damn, could he ever throw down with the translating. The only thing I really knew about Japanese was that it didn’t do so well in direct translation to English. It was enough of a chore to make it say the right thing; it was another thing entirely to make it say the right thing and make it an awesome read. Kenny nailed it on both counts. I made a mental note to tell him he so needed to do an audiobook version and read it himself. Or if not, at least read it out loud to me. *** Long-distance relationships are a hell of a lot easier in this day and age than they used to be. Oh yeah. You’ve got cell phones with plans that don’t ream you sans Astroglide on long distance charges. You can wave a credit card at pretty much any retailer on the Internet and have a box of chocolate or a silly T-shirt or just about anything you can think of (um… yes, whatever perverted thing you’re thinking of, that too) delivered right to your best beloved’s doorstep, wherever that might be. You’ve got e-mail and instant messengers and digital cameras and MySpace and blogs and a hundred ways to communicate. Except the one really, really important one: face to face. I missed Kenny. Oh God, did I ever miss him. It didn’t help that Halloween was on the horizon and the news and papers were full of ghost hunters this and urban legends that and witchcraft the other and all I could think about was what Kenny would say if he were reading and watching all that shit with me. Would he take notes? Or would he point and laugh and tell them how it was really done? Every time I went to a bookstore I cruised through the New Age/Occult/Weird Shit section just to see his books sitting on the shelf. I kept digging through a whole bunch of websites I couldn’t read in hopes of finding another picture or still from an interview or anything. I dug up one more, again in a suit oh God, and that was all I could find. I missed him so bad I couldn’t stand it. I wanted to hear his voice–in person, not filtered through the phone. I wanted to sit on the couch and watch cheesy horror movies with him. I wanted to take him out to every barbecue restaurant in a fifty-mile radius. I wanted to take him to the beach, watch him struggle into a wetsuit, and teach him how to surf, and then spend the night huddled into a two-man sleeping bag in the back seat of my car. I wanted him near me, with me, next to me, against me, and in me. And I did my damndest to not think about the possibility that this might not have actually meant as much to him as it did to me, and that things might be weird and awkward when he came back. If he came back. Oh, for fuck’s sake, I said to myself, just call him already. Since it was two in the morning, I settled for texting hi, miss u at him.

It was better than nothing, I guess. miss u 2, call u later was waiting for me when I got up the next morning. And he did. And we talked about absolutely nothing of any great substance until my cell battery died. *** I guess I should mention some of the other guys Ray and I hung out and surfed with. Particularly these two guys who were beating on my door half an hour after I got home from work one day. The tall stocky Mexican guy was Mario Gonzalez. Sometimes I wonder if he had been born with some other name and changed it to Mario later in life. Because he had–God’s honest–a red baseball cap with a white iron-on M on it, and whenever he called one of our particular group he always identified himself with a cheery “It’s-a me, Mario!” Every. Single. Time. Now I could be wrong about this, I’d had more than a few beers in me at the time, but I think this once drove Ray–yes, Ray as in Mr. “I Want To Attach My PSP To My Steering Wheel,” that’s why I say to take this with a grain of salt–to threaten to kill him by going out, finding a turtle, painting its shell red, and throwing it at him. The short guy with the bowl cut and the “Bikini Inspector” T-shirt was Bacon. That would be Bacon as in “pork,” not Bacon as in “Sir Francis.” Look, I don’t know what his real name is either, and I don’t know where he got that nickname, and I probably don’t want to. I’ve heard from reliable sources that there was lard involved, okay? There are things Man was not meant to know, and I’m pretty sure the rest of that story is one of them. Anyway, they were at my door and they had beer, so I was kind of obligated to let them in. “The fuck you been, man?” Bacon demanded before I could even get hey, ’sup out of my mouth. “They got you workin’ 12s or weekends or something now? Shit, look at you, dude could read a newspaper through you, need to get your pale ass to the beach yesterday–” “You shut the hole in your face.” I opened the door wide, waved them both in, and left my hand out. “And my pale ass did go to the beach last weekend.” I wiggled my fingers. “Beer. Give.” Mario peeled a can off the six-pack and handed it to me. “Huh. You musta left early then, ’cause we got there around four-thirty and we didn’t see you.” He peeled off another can and passed it to Bacon, who accepted it happily and plopped down onto my couch, then took a third for himself and the rest to the kitchen. “Saw Ray, though.” Oh, fuck. “Yeah,” Bacon chimed in. “He was hanging with–whatsisnuts, dude with the shark tooth or whateverthefuck–” “Gary,” Mario supplied in the same tone of voice I suspected he would have used to say “Wario.” “Yeah, that guy.” Bacon wrinkled his nose up and looked not unlike the source animal of his namesake. “Fuckin’ dick, ’s what he is. And it’s hella rubbing off on Ray, y’know?” Mario made a snerking noise into his beer. “Man, no shit. You see that look he gave me when I asked him if he’d talked to Jeff lately?” I let out a breath I didn’t realize I’d been holding. “Really.” “Oh yeah, he’s fuckin’ sore about that shit.” Bacon laughed and waved a hand at me. “It’s cool. We all know what happened.” He snorted. “You know how he does when he fucks around on chicks and they dump his ass? He came up the other day all ‘aw man, Jeff’s pissed,’ same way, n’ I kinda called him on that. Then he didn’t wanna talk about it. Then he got all butthurt n’ stomped off with Numbnuts-I-

mean-Gary. So we kinda figured it out.” “Told Bacon to go eat a dick, I think.” Mario made that snerking noise again. “Which is pretty fuckin’ funny comin’ from him, I mean–sorry, no offense, J.” “None taken.” Wow. Seriously, fucking wow. I wondered how much Ray had or had not blabbed to Gary about the whole situation. I seriously doubted he would have mentioned the part about the doll, even Ray isn’t that stupid, but the sex? And me being kind of an over-jealous bitch about it? Yeah, that was a distinct possibility. I wanted to cringe. Just a little, though. Funny, for some reason I found myself not terribly in the way of giving a shit what hot gossip Ray and Gary might be sharing in between blowjobs these days. “…what the shit, dude, this is fuckin’ autographed–” Huh? Autograph? What? Bacon waved the copy of Hook Man that’d been sitting on my coffee table since the day I got it at me. “Dude, you like, know a famous dude and you didn’t tell us?” Oh, that autograph. “What famous dude?” Mario reached over and snagged the book out of Bacon’s stubby fingers. “I never heard of him. What, he like those Ghost Hunters guys on TV, the ones that scream like girls and flip their shit every time they hear a little noise?” I grinned. And figured it probably wouldn’t be a good idea to tell them what Kenny actually thought of those guys on TV. *** Of course, the day I was down to one pair of cut-off jeans and one T-shirt would be the day my washing machine went goodbye, cruel world!, made some godawful death-rattly noise, and died halfway through the wash cycle. There’s really only one thing you can do when you have a load of dripping wet soapy clothes and no quarters on hand and the nearest laundromat’s change machine works when it feels like it: invade your mom and stepdad’s house and commandeer her laundry apparatus. Well, maybe this doesn’t work so well when your mom doesn’t live ten minutes away from you. Your proverbial mileage may vary. As a side bonus, they fed me. And Mom? Can fucking cook. Oh, I know what you’re thinking, everyone’s mom can fucking cook, everyone’s mom makes the best damn fried chicken/meatloaf/spaghetti/potato soup/whatever in the whole world, but trust me. When I say “Mom can fucking cook,” I don’t mean it as in “Mom makes awesome [insert dish here,]” I mean it as in “Mom went to culinary school and was a chef in one of those fancy-ass restaurants downtown for most of my life until she got bored with that and took up real estate instead.” Which is a good thing, because any food my stepdad cooks that doesn’t involve a) meat, b) a grill, and c) fire? Don’t eat it. Just–trust me on this one. I think there’s a restraining order on him that says he can’t come within five feet of a stove. For the record, the man can barbecue, and if Kenny liked that place he took me to when we first met I had a suspicion that my stepdad’s brisket would bring on a spontaneous orgasm, but anyway. So I came in the door with my Rubbermaid storage tub full of soaking wet laundry with suds drying onto the parts that were exposed to air and my bag of still-dry laundry that hadn’t quite made it into the washer yet, and while the laundry emergency was getting resolved I got to eat awesome food and watch Mythbusters. Mom, meanwhile, was busy poking all her real estate stuff. She’d wander by talking on

the phone once in a while, speaking that weird cryptic language real estate agents speak to one another, occasionally speaking plain English to what I guessed were people actually looking to buy and/or sell houses. “…tell you right now, it’s definitely a fixer-upper and it’s got a bit of a, uh, chequered past, but… mmhmm… mmmhmm. Really. So you’ve… really. Okay, then, you said you’ll be in town… gotcha. Okay. See you then. Okay. Bye-bye.” She stopped where she was as she hung up, open-mouthed and staring at me across the living room. “Homygod,” she said. “Everything okay?” Mom sputtered out a breathy laugh. “Oh shit yes.” I could see the visions of dollar signs dancing in her head. “Big sale?” Mom hemmed and hawed over that one for a minute. Opened her mouth. Closed it and shook her head. “I’m not going to talk about this. I don’t want to jinx it,” she finally said, snapping her phone shut and shoving it back into her pocket. “More meatloaf?” …okay, so she did make awesome meatloaf. *** I usually spent Halloween nights either at a bar with some friends or at home handing out candy. This year, I was in Galveston. On the Strand. On a ghost tour. Walking around in the middle of a pack of eager amateur Ghostbusters armed with cameras and tape recorders and dowsing rods and weird little meters, chattering excitedly amongst themselves about the veil this and ectoplasm that and EVP the other. I sure as hell didn’t see anything on the damn tour worth getting worked up over. Oh, don’t get me wrong. The historical district is fucking gorgeous. As walking tours of the Strand and thereabouts went, it was pretty good. As ghost-hunting expeditions went, it was lame. It was my first ghost tour ever, I’ll grant that maybe I just didn’t have a proper frame of reference for a good ghost tour vs. a bad ghost tour, but I still knew lame when I saw it. Sure, I got some neat pictures. Just… none of anything remotely ghost-like. I don’t know. Maybe I was just a little jaded after dealing with the doll. All I know is, none of the shit that was intended to freak me out was even coming close to freaking me out, and I barely registered the sudden commotion from the back of the pack and subsequent passing around of a digital camera and oohing and aahing over same until someone shoved the camera right up into my face. “Look!” cried the proud photographer as he continued to invade my personal space, “look at all these orbs, oh my God–” I’m afraid I kind of snapped, just a teeny tiny bit. I kept it civil, if that makes any difference. My friendly (if slightly catty) observation that the ohmygodORBS! were in the exact same positions in the previous photo on the memory card while the camera was pointed in a completely different direction was met with several gazes that would make polar bears shiver and go “brr.” As was my equally friendly (if slightly catty) suggestion that the photographer clean his damn lens to rule out the possibility of dust or water droplets showing up as ohmygodORBS! in subsequent photos. As the slightly disheartened photographer put his camera away and we resumed our journey down the Strand, I heard one friendly (if slightly catty) suggestion from the back of the pack that I unblock my third eye chakra. Whatever the hell that meant.

*** ***Ken_Tachibana is online*** <sharkchowjeff> Happy Halloween. belated. whatev. <Ken_Tachibana> You’re up late. Halloween partying much? <Ken_Tachibana> Also, you’re still in time for Day of the Dead. Close enough for government work. <sharkchowjeff> Nah, not much partying, did this ghost tour thing in Galveston. <Ken_Tachibana> Oo. How was it? <sharkchowjeff> Lame. People flipping their shit cause they got orbs in their pictures, whoop de do. <Ken_Tachibana> gahahaha <Ken_Tachibana> anyone get any OMG ECTOPLASM!!!11!!!1 pix? I love those, people never take it well when you point out the guy next to ‘em with a lit cigarette <sharkchowjeff> lol! <sharkchowjeff> No, just OMG ORBS <sharkchowjeff> Is that reaction anything like the one you get when you go “hey guy, wipe ur lens” at the OMG ORB pix? Cause that one was hell of frosty <Ken_Tachibana> oh shit did you really? <Ken_Tachibana> LOL x infinity <Ken_Tachibana> bet someone gave you grief about opening your third eye or sth <sharkchowjeff> YES, some shit about my third eye chakra, wtf is that <Ken_Tachibana> OH LOL that’s a New Age Bingo square for you! Anyone show up with dowsing rods? <sharkchowjeff> Yes, 2 or 3 people actually <Ken_Tachibana> gahahaha <sharkchowjeff> I couldn’t look at them cause one guy’s rods would go off and the others wouldn’t or vice versa <sharkchowjeff> and they’d argue about whose were right and start throwing down their psychic cred and if I looked at them I’d start laughing and they’d get all bitchy at me <sharkchowjeff> after the 4th or 5th time the guide told all of them to put the rods away or he’d kick them off the tour and leave them right there in the middle of the Strand <sharkchowjeff> no refund <Ken_Tachibana> GYAHAHAHA awesome \(^o^)/ <Ken_Tachibana> See, that’s what ghost tours are really for, so people who actually deal with this stuff can hang out in the back of

the group with a friend and make fun of all the armchair ghostbusters that only come out of their mom’s basement on Halloween or whatever <sharkchowjeff> *dead!!* <sharkchowjeff> Wish you could have been there, then. You would have had a ball. <Ken_Tachibana> Oh, I believe it. Wish I could have been there too. It rained all day up here and now it’s cold and gross. I had two trick-or-treaters. It sucked. <sharkchowjeff> :-( <Ken_Tachibana> I thought about going to a bar or something, but I had shit to do here. <Ken_Tachibana> You have to work tomorrow? <sharkchowjeff> …crap. yeah. not till 11, but. <Ken_Tachibana> ;_; <Ken_Tachibana> You should go to bed. <Ken_Tachibana> …shit, /I/ should go to bed. <sharkchowjeff> I guess. <sharkchowjeff> Miss you lots. <Ken_Tachibana> Miss you lots too. Call me tomorrow night or something? <sharkchowjeff> Hell yeah. :-) <Ken_Tachibana> k. <Ken_Tachibana> Sweet dreams, then. <sharkchowjeff> You too. ***Ken_Tachibana has disconnected*** *** About a week later, I awoke to the sound of someone ringing the hell out of my doorbell again. I peeked out the bedroom window before I headed for the door–y’know, to see if there was a little green Beetle out front. Yeah. I know. There wasn’t a Beetle, green or otherwise. But there was a little blue Element with a “Colbert ‘08″ bumper sticker out there. What the hell? Mom? “Well!” she chirped at me as I opened the door and made what was probably a very amusing face against the sudden solar assault to my tender sleepy eyes. “We’re sleeping in just a wee bit today, aren’t we?” “Mom?” I rubbed my eyes. What time was it? Noon? Ugh. My kingdom for a total solar eclipse. “What’s up? Everything okay?” “You know that thing?” She was practically vibrating. She looked like someone had just handed her the keys to the Starship Enterprise and said here you go, take ‘er around the block a couple times, we’ll have a million dollars, a pony, and George Clooney waiting for you when you get back. “That thing. That big thing I didn’t want to jinx.”

Oh, that thing. “Uh huh…?” “So that house,” Mom panted. “You know. That house I showed you, that big-ass ugly house with the room. The one that’s been up forever. That nobody can sell. And buyers spend one night in and go ‘oh shit no’ and back out on. And has a huge-ass bonus on it. That house.” Mom puffed herself up at me. “I closed that sonofabitch this morning!” “No shit?” Oh yeah, I knew what house she meant. I’d been in it. It was old, cold (even in May when Mom gave me the tour), in livable condition but butt-ugly, and sitting on a mess of crabgrass and dandelions the realtors kept shaved down into something that looked kind of like a lawn as long as you didn’t get too close. That room she was talking about was a secret room in the attic one entered through–I shit you not–a bookcase door, and it smelled a little like roadkill. And supposedly, some guy had gotten his brains blown out in there. “No shit. And the buyer? He knew all the horror stories about the place, and he still wanted it and so I’m pretty damn sure he’s going to keep it. Get your shoes on. We are going to go eat steak and get you a new washer. Hop to!” “…hang on.” The house was cold. In May. In Houston. Cold spots. A violent death in the house. That house was haunted. It was honest-to-God haunted. Holy crap, my pathetic Kenny fanboying paid off. I actually learned stuff. Which begged the question: who the hell would want to buy a haunted house? Well, the obvious answer: someone interested in weird shit like haunted houses. Perhaps even someone who made a career out of being interested in weird shit like haunted houses… … …oh, no fucking way. “Mom?” “Mm?” “Who’s the buyer?” “Oh.” She flapped a hand around. “This really nice little Japanese guy, I think he’s some kind of writer or something–hon? What is it?” Help me, I tried to tell her. Get me a crowbar. My jaw’s stuck in the floorboards. Instead, I fumbled my cell phone out of my pocket, stabbed my way through the speed dial list, and hit “send.” Two rings. “Hey, Jeff. Can I call you back in about ten minutes, I’m kind of in the middle of–” “Did you just buy a house here?” I asked. Silence. “Kenny?” More silence. “Kenny.” Still more silence. Then: “Yeah, okay, this from the guy that accused me of being psychic.” *** I had to take a raincheck on that steak from Mom. Actually, once I told her what was going on (minus

the part about the doll), she declared that she would buy us both steaks later, pecked me on the cheek, hopped back into her Element, and took off. I screeched out of the driveway about a minute and a half later. I knew exactly where that house was. I didn’t pass it every day, but it wasn’t exactly hidden away in cul-de-sac hell, either. Sure enough, there was Kenny’s little green Beetle trying to blend in with the overgrown driveway, and there was Kenny standing in the yard peering up at a second story window. I didn’t even try to squeeze my car onto what was left of the driveway, just pulled it up to the curb and hopped out. Before I could open my mouth to call Kenny’s name or tell him I missed him or call him an asshole for not telling me he was back in town and taking up residence, he was sprinting to the curb, bounding over a scraggly holly bush and a sad row of bricks that might have bordered a flowerbed in a past life and throwing both arms around me. Any remaining fear I might have had about things being weird and awkward the next time I saw him? Out the window. “Hey,” he said, and kissed me right there in front of God and neighbors and everybody. He was warm and a little sweaty, and he tasted like coffee and cinnamon and smelled like soap and old house. There were streaks of dust across the front of his T-shirt (they’re heeere!) and a few strands of cobweb clinging to his bangs. “Told you I’d be back.” “You didn’t tell me you were going to buy a house when you did, you ass!” I sputtered, and Kenny half-collapsed onto my shoulder laughing at the epithet. “Seriously, are you staying, or is this just a ‘Maine sucks in the winter’ thing, or–” “I’m staying.” He grinned hugely and before I could say anything, added: “C’mon, this town’s haunted as hell, it’ll take me years to check all this shit out.” “Mn,” was all I could say to that, because he kissed me again. And then once more for good measure. And one more time in case that wasn’t quite enough. I did have to breathe eventually, and I figured we should probably break it up before the neighbors came out with a hose or something. Not that I was worried about pissing anyone off; in this part of town it was a reasonable assumption that at least half the neighborhood was gay. But the same could be said for my neighborhood, and I know I’d rather people didn’t make out right there in the yard. “So that was your mom?” Kenny asked as he sort of but didn’t quite let go of me. “Wow. Small world, huh? I mean, I thought I saw a little resemblance there, but–” “Oh.” Right. Different last name. “Yeah. Divorced and remarried. So…” I slid away and started meandering up into the yard, towards the front door. “Have you been in that secret room up there? That’d be a hell of a place to set up your writing stuff or whatev–” Kenny caught my hand and pulled back. “I wouldn’t go in there right now if I were you,” he said. “Why not?” Kenny opened his mouth. He looked up. He closed his mouth. “Uh-oh.” He yanked me about five feet farther from the house and behind him just as someone or something else answered my question by heaving what looked like a broken chair out that window he’d been staring at. Without bothering to open the window first, naturally. “…okay,” I said. Kenny just sighed, took a notepad out of his pocket, flipped to a list of items like fix water heater and kitchen wallpaper sucks, and scribbled replace upstairs bedroom window at the end.