Chapter 2: Reality Check
The three Rikki Rocketts lounged around Ben's basement doing absolutely nothing.
John threw a dart and exclaimed, "We need uniforms!"
Rob agreed. "Really dumb uniforms."
"I want to wear my bathrobe. Where is my bathrobe? I really like it. Mom?" Since his accident, Ben was a new person, one whom the others were still learning how to talk to.
"She's not here, Ben. Quit asking," replied John. "Have some more tuna."
"And we all have to wear longjohns with holes in the crotch."
"Of course! How about-shirts that say, `I'm a Stupid Eunuch?'"
"What's a eunuch?" asked Rob.
Mrs. Benson's penetrating nasal whine interrupted the desultory debate. "Ben, the Federal Express man brought you a package. Were you expecting anything? It says C/Z Records. Do you want me to open it? I'll open it for you."
"Mom?" said Ben to his shoes.
"I'll get it!" John bounded up the stairs and returned with a large box. He and Rob opened it carefully. Packing material spilled at their feet. John rummaged in the box, then flourished a full-color compact disk. Both boys laughed uncontrollably.
"Look at this, Ben! It's our CD! It looks just like a real CD! I don't believe it!"
Ben took another bite of tuna. "Where's Bill?" he asked. "He's the Raisin Man. I love to laugh."
Rob and John settled down to examine the inner liner notes and divide the contents of the box. Their outbursts gradually decreased. Silence fell. Rob stared moodily at his pile of CD's; John threw more darts.
"We just got this," said Rob holding up a compact disk. "And already, I'm bored with it." He threw it onto the floor in the center of the basement. "I'll see you guys later. I'm going to go kill myself." John paid no attention as Rob piled all but one of his disks in a grocery bag and shambled silently up the stairs.
John threw darts. Ben ate tuna. After fifteen minutes Ben broke the silence. "Where's my bathrobe?"
"Shut up, you fag." John threw the last dart and packed his CD's back into the box. "I'll go get you a bathrobe. You write a hit song. When I get back I'm gonna kill you, you bastard! See this pile? These are your CD's. Don't eat them." He took the box, walked up the stairs and was gone.
Ben sat alone blinking. He sniffed the air and scratched his head. "What time is it?" he asked. "I know I put that football around here somewhere..."
Rob closed and locked his bedroom door. With a sigh he dropped his bag of new compact disks. He sat on his bed, picked up the remote control and listlessly turned on his television. Passively, he watched sitcom after sitcom, commercial after commercial, all the while murmuring, "Tragedy, comedy....tragedy....comedy"
"Goodnight, Robbie. See you in the morning."
Rob wondered where he was. "Tragedy... comedy..."
John pushed open the garage door, trying not to drop the box of disks. The house was quiet.
"Hello!?" he shouted. "Is anyone home?" Silence. "Ear!"
He left the box on the living room floor and made for the kitchen. The refrigerator was all but empty. He slammed it shut in disgust. Dirty dishes were stacked up high on the counter. Ignoring the mess, he picked up a cordless telephone and headed toward the basement.
"Yes. John? I mean Rikki? Hello?"
"Kim, hello. Congratulations, you've been immortalized on our new release. We got our compact disks from C/Z Records today."
"Oh, really. How are they?"
"They're awful. Why don't you come over and I'll show you just how terrible it is? You can have one, too. Seeing as you were our star guest performer."
Kim giggled, "I'll be right over, Rikki!"
"OK. Rock on!"
He put the phone down and sat quietly in the cool basement. The front door opened. He listened as someone entered the house. Footsteps on hardwood crossed from the front door into the kitchen. They stopped. John moved toward the basement steps. His grandmother was home. Maybe she'd bought some food. Then the telephone rang. He rushed back to where he'd set the receiver down, but his grandmother upstairs had already picked it up. It sounded as if she were talking to his mom. John hesitated for a moment with the phone in his hand and a finger over the answer button. He clicked it on and pressed the mute button.
"It isn't very promising," he heard his mother say.
"You hang in there, kiddo. I'll take care of everything here. Don't worry about the kids, I'll make sure they get something to eat. Maybe we'll go out for dinner."
"Thanks, Mom. I don't know what I would be doing without you. Don't forget, Ken's bus drops him off about five."
"OK. I can't stand looking at this mess in the kitchen. I think I'll put off cleaning it for another half hour and do some grocery shopping. I'll try to get this all cleaned up and have dinner ready by five-ish, then."
"Thanks. We should be back in a few hours. One more CAT-scan and we're out of here."
"Oh, dear, not another. I don't know what to say. All these tests. Hrumph. I'll pray for a miracle."
"Yes. So will I."
John paced around the pool table as he eavesdropped.
"We're going to make it through this one way or another. Just hang in there. By the way, do you know if Johnny is going to be home for dinner?" asked his grandmother from upstairs.
"Umm, well. No, he's been spending a lot of time with his band. If you need him, all their phone numbers are on a sheet of paper tacked to a wall in his room. But I would guess he probably won't be around. Oh! Here they come. I've got to go. Bye, Mom. I love you."
"Good bye, dear. I'll be praying for you."
John held the phone in his hand and listened until he heard his grandmother's car back down the driveway. It was quiet again. These moments of perfect solitude were sometimes the best. Time seemed to vanish. He tried to hear absolutely nothing, but the air conditioner clicked on and hummed through the basement. The doorbell rang six times.
John pulled out of his trance and answered the door. Kim stood waiting in her dark sunglasses. Her body was crisscrossed with thong-laced, skintight leather.
"Come on in. You look incredible. Why don't you let me borrow that leather thing you're wearing sometime?"
"Any time you want it, Rikki. I got it for you!" She drifted into the foyer.
"Follow me. I'll give you a copy of `Please Kill Us' for your listening displeasure." John led her into the living room. He pulled a compact disk out of the box and handed it to her.
She examined the case and shiny disk inside. "Neat! Can I get something to drink?"
"Sure. Let's go downstairs before anyone gets here."
"Lead on, Rikki! I'll follow you anywhere!"
Kim followed John into the cool, dim basement. John retrieved an ice cold beer from his personal stock. She took it and wiped the condensation over her neck and shoulders.
"Thanks. I can't believe you guys actually made it." She glanced at the CD.
"Yes, well. If you call that making it, I guess we did. But enough about me. Let's talk about you. What are you after these days?"
"You. I'm after you, Rikki!" She licked her red lips and let her long blonde hair fall forward, hiding her face. "What did you think I was after all this time? I had a dream. It explained everything. In the dream I'm standing at a firepit. It's the middle of the day. There's an old black man, an aborigine, with long, tangled dreadlocks, kneeling at the edge of the pit. He has his back turned to me. He's hunched over working on something, but I can't see what it is.
"I walk carefully around the firepit to see what he's doing.
"As I do, the sky begins to darken and flames rise up from the smoldering firepit.
"The old man slowly raises his head and seizes me with his glittering, bloodshot, obsidian eyes. He peers at me from under his craggy forehead. He has an ancient, primitive face. He opens his mouth and reveals stumps of rotted teeth. His hands never stop picking at a decayed chicken. Now the sky is completely black. The light of the fire dances across his face. And he says to me: `De feathers give way to de bone, mon. And de bone, it give way to de wire.' As he speaks, the chicken transforms in his hands until only wire remains.
"And I realized it was you, Rikki Rockett. You are the wire!"
"Why do you think I went out with Bill? I had to get close to you when I found out... When I realized..."
"When you found out what?"
"We're soul mates. I want you more than I've ever wanted anything in my life. I want to make love with you, Rikki Rockett."
John thought this over. "Wasn't Ben's enough?"
Kim inspected her long red finger nails, "I think he lost it. He's been acting strange lately. Haven't you noticed?"
"Yes. Well. I don't think it would be an easy task to distinguish between a normal Ben and a not normal Ben. If you know what I mean."
"But, he's not Rikki Rockett! I know that now. He's just another dork. Ever since I hit him with that tuna. I wonder why I did that? I didn't mean to do it. It's so hard to remember. I was very confused. I mean, I was very confused then. Now I know exactly what I'm doing. I know you're the true Rikki Rockett, and I'll do anything for you." She moved close to John. The cold beer perspired in her hand as the heat from their bodies combined. She put the can to her mouth and swallowed eagerly. "I have something to show you."
"Really? What?" John leaned back against the wall.
Kim drew closer and began undoing the leather straps of her vest and skirt. "It's finally ready for you to see. I hope you like it. I did it for you."
John watched cautiously as Kim lifted up her shirt, revealing the smooth skin of her stomach. "Wow! When did you get that?"
Kim looked down at herself and touched the spot above her left hip where a goldfish and the letters `Rikki Rockett' were tattooed into her flesh. "When I knew you were the one. I've got another further down, but you can't see that one until we're in my private hot spot!"
"Are you sure there are two t's in Rikki Rockett?" asked John as he leaned in for a closer inspection.
"For twice the pleasure! Of course!" she giggled.
"Hmmm, then why not three, or more?"
"Because it takes two. Me, and you."
John stood up straight and looked into her hazel eyes. "And you'll do anything?"
"Anything you want."
"Tell me about having sex with Ben."
"Sex with Ben? It's nothing like even touching you," she whispered and touched his face.
"Why don't you go lie down on the pool table, Kim?"
She handed John her beer and obediently mounted the table. As Kim stretched out, John emptied the can and tossed it to the carpeted floor. She lay supine on the pool table waiting for further instructions.
"Now, I want you to let your head hang over the edge facing me."
As she did, the front door opened again.
"Take off that leather top."
Kim unlaced her top to reveal her pale, supple breasts and hard, well defined nipples. "Is this good?" she asked.
"I want you to stick your legs up in the air and tell me what you know about reality."
John watched Kim's slender legs make a V as he listened to the footsteps of two or three people walking into the house. "Reality?" she giggled, "Reality is like ripe fruit, like aggression, like blood, like life. I understand that understanding is my dream. So, all I want is to stare deep into your face and breath your name. I want to know your dreams and protect you from your nightmares. I want to walk with you through fields of napalm and collect for you silver branches."
"Good job, Kim. Tell me why you want Rikki Rockett."
"Because if I don't wrap these legs around you and ride out this violent love storm, I'll die. I need to see your wild eyes close to mine. To hold your body in the middle of the night and whisper into your ear! I want to become one with you, Rikki! That's what I want. I want to become you! I want to touch the soul of God!"
John heard steps coming down the stairs, but didn't bother to look up.
"You asshole!" Angela's voice cut through the atmosphere like shattering glass.
John spun toward the staircase. Before he could say a word she was off and running up the basement steps. John stood staring until she had disappeared around the corner. Then he turned back to Kim.
"Hurry," she panted. "You're such an awesome piece of action. And you've got it going on straight up. Come to me now; we have little time to waste."
"Kim. I gotta go."
Kim ignored his words. "I'm the kind of woman who could bring it all out of you. You're such a tease. Remember, if you play with the stove, you'll eventually get burned." She spread her legs wide and caressed herself suggestively. "Here.... Let me show you."
John rummaged through the debris on the floor, looking for his car keys.
"Help me, John. I find myself making less and less sense to the real world. Has anyone ever asked you if you knew what love was? You don't have to tell me. But what did you say? Please, John. Please tell me. Or kill me. If I can't have you, I might as well die now."
John walked to the edge of the pool table and gazed into Kim's dilated eyes. "Kim," he said calmly, "I have to go now." He leaned over and kissed her lingeringly, then turned and bounded up the stairs.
"John. Oh, god, I'll love for you forever. Amen. Or until I kill myself. Or someone else does. Which is a million times more likely. John? John! JOHN!!" But he was gone.
John pulled up in front of Angela's house. He saw her sitting motionless in her parked car. As he stopped, Angela fled into the house. John hurried after her. One of the goose decoys fell off the top of his car as he slammed the door, but he didn't notice. Meanwhile, Angela dashed through the garage into her kitchen. John tried to follow, but found the door locked. He turned back to the front door and let himself in.
John mounted the stairs to Angela's bedroom, where he once again faced a locked door. He pounded on it. "Let me in!" he demanded. "I want to talk to you."
"I know you're in there. You have to listen to me. You haven't given me a chance. You drew an absurd conclusion based on a false premise. I deserve a hearing. How can you shut me out like this? Don't you care for me at all?"
Angela mumbled, "Go away." John heard muffled sobbing. Encouraged, he continued.
"I told you you were in there. I want to be in there, too. Let me in. I'll make it all better."
"You can't make it all better. It's all wrong."
"What do you think happened? What do you think you saw?"
"That's not what I'm talking about."
"What do you mean?"
Angela opened the door, turned immediately away and walked back to her bed.
"Well? What are you talking about? You won't even look me in the face. How can we work this out if you won't even tell me what's going on?"
"I've missed my period. I'm three weeks late. I took one of those home pregnancy tests. I'm pregnant."
"Are you positive?"
"I'm positive. The test was positive. Everything is positive. Yes. Yes, yes, yes."
"OK. This doesn't have to be a bad thing, does it? What we have is real. Now we have a reason to get married."
"Sure. Why not. You're great. We're in love. I know you're the only woman for me."
"Oh, no. What about all those groupies? What about Kathy? What about KIM???" Angela burst into tears again. Between sobs she stammered, "I don't think I can trust you."
John took her in his arms and kissed her hair. "That was the past. Angela. I'm here with you now. I know that I could spend the rest of my life with you."
"Everywhere I go, girls are talking about you. They've all been with you. ALL of them. And Bill says.... Bill says it's true, too. I don't think you can change. You're a womanizer. I can't live with someone like that. I can't live always wondering if this girl or that girl is sleeping with you. I can't stand it."
"I'll become someone else. In fact, I already have. Since I've met you, I've become someone entirely different. Can't you tell? It's so obvious."
"Obvious? What's obvious to me is that Kim was lying on your pool table with her shirt off and her legs up in the air."
"Those groupies will do anything to get a disk. I was just seeing what I could get her to do. I thought it was pretty funny. I never touched her. Neither of us had the slightest inclination for physical contact. Well, at least I didn't. I have everything I could want in you. Anyway, Kim is crazy. She's written me some letters you wouldn't believe. Plus she wants Rikki Rockett - er - I mean, she's in love with Ben. She was just fooling around. You know how she is. She does this stuff. It doesn't mean anything. We were just talking about reality."
"Well, it looked pretty real to me. Oh, John, what am I going to do?"
"Well...if you're three weeks late... are you sure you want to have it?"
"It's a human life, John. I can't kill my baby. Human life is sacred. I could never take a human life."
"What if it was deformed? What if it was destined to a horrible life of pain and suffering? Wouldn't it be better for it to die now and not have to go through all that?"
"How can you think things like that? What's the matter with you? How could an innocent baby be better off dead?"
"Life is hard. Some things are worse than death. Like unbearable pain and suffering, for example. I'm trying to look at this objectively."
"I could never have an abortion. I'd rather die."
"Then let's get married. Will your parents give us alot of shit?"
Angela began to cry again.
John took her tenderly in his arms. "Oh, Kim," he said, "don't cry. I'll take care of you. I love you."
"Kim????" Angela wrenched herself out of his embrace.
"I didn't say Kim."
"You DID say Kim. You called me Kim. YOU DID FUCK HER! I thought you were Ben's friend. How could you do that to him? What kind of a person are you?"
"No. I called you Angela. You must be hearing things."
"I'm hearing some things I should have heard a long time ago. Bill was right about you. You're nothing but a lying womanizer."
John laughed. "Oh, God! Whatever. I can't help it," he sneered. "I can turn on anyone. Just like I turned on you."
"I hate you. You're a manipulator. You've betrayed me and broken my trusting heart. You're a dishonest and insincere person. You have no feelings and no respect. I can't trust you. No one can trust you. I could never respect you. You've been lying to me since we met. You never cared for me at all. You were just toying with me for your own amusement. You rat. Get out. Get out of my room! Get out of my house! Get out of my life! I don't want to be your little slave any more! I never want to see you again as long as I live! I hope I die, and my baby dies, too, before I hear your lying name again!"
"You sound very angry."
"Fuck you! Fuck you and your psychiatrist crap! You sound like that doctor at school. Come to think of it, she seemed alot more interested in you than she was in Adam. Are you fucking her, too?"
"Not YET??? That woman must be 40 years old! What's the matter with you? She isn't even good looking!"
"But she's not stupid."
With a shriek, Angela ran out of the room and down the stairs.John heard her car door slam and the screech of tires as she pulled out. He threw his hands into the air. "Women," he said. "I give up." He opened her closet, collected his flight jacket, and strolled back to his car.
Angela drove aimlessly for awhile, crying and raging, not paying attention to where she was going. Eventually she found herself in front of a familiar house. "Of course," she said. "This is perfect." She parked her car and rang Bill's doorbell.
"Hello, Angela. Come on in. You look awful. I saw Kim today. She made hairball noises at me. Wanna come in and watch a movie?"
"I saw Kim, too."
"How did she look? Did she say anything about me?"
"She was lying on John's pool table with her legs in the air and her shirt on the floor. I didn't hear her say anything about you, though."
Angela walked into the kitchen and poured some juice for herself. "Do you have any peanut butter? I'm really hungry."
"Wait a minute. Kim was what? Where?"
"She was in John's basement. I really want a sandwich. Where's the peanut butter? I have a taste for celery and peanut butter."
"Let Meg make you a sandwich. What the fuck are you talking about her shirt was on the floor? That bastard. I knew he wanted Kim all along. It's all his fault. It was me she really loved. I was the one for her. I treated her better than he ever could. But he lured her away from me. He tricked her."
"He tricked me, too. He says he can turn on any woman he wants, anytime. I hate him. I can't believe he said that to me. How can he say that to me? After all we've meant to each other. He never really loved me at all. He was just manipulating me. He made me his slave. He had no right. He's ruined my life."
"Kim never loved me. I never should have told her I loved her. Maybe she did love me. I asked her if it was all right to tell her. She said no. But I told her anyway. I never should have done it. Maybe if I take her some flowers....."
"You have to let go, Bill. That's what I had to do. Nothing else can stop the pain. You have to let her go. She doesn't love you. She doesn't love anyone. She's just like John. Cruel and manipulative. Taking advantage of us, hurting us, for their own selfish desires."
"Yes, I know you're right. But I can't let go. If only she would tell me why she left me. She wrote me a note. But it didn't explain anything. If she would just sit down and talk to me, I know I would feel better. But she won't."
"How would that help? You know she would just lie to you. Just like John does. They've lied to us all along. They never tell the truth. They don't know how. We give them our hearts; we bare our souls to them; and they rip us to shreds."
"I trusted her. I loved her. I've never been in love like that before. And the sex.... that was the best sex I've ever had in my life..."
Angela began to cry.
"Oh, hey. I didn't mean to make you cry." Bill put his arm around Angela and led her into his room. He put a Buffalo Tom CD on the stereo and sat beside her on the bed. She sniffled a little and accepted his offer of tissues.
"I wish I didn't get so emotional. It doesn't help. I just need to let him go."
"Letting go is hard. When I was sixteen, I fell in love with a woman who was 23. She broke my heart. I never really got over it - until I met Kim. Kim was the first woman who was able to make me forget. And now she's gone too. I don't think I can ever love another woman again. It's been to painful."
"Oh, Bill... I don't know what to do...."
"I'm sorry... You've heard me talk about this so much... I'm being selfish... What happened with John and Kim?"
"He came to my house. He stood right there in front of me and asked me to marry him... but he called me KIM!!!"
Angela accepted another tissue and leaned on his shoulder. "I knew it. Even after he told me he loved me, he was sleeping with her. It was all a lie. I was completely fooled. How can you tell when someone really loves you?"
Bill sighed and closed his eyes. He began to tremble and put his head in his hands. Angela rested her hand tentatively on the back of Bill's head. He began to sob; his tears triggered hers and they fell damply into one another's arms.
They cried uninhibitedly for awhile, and then began to regain composure. They separated and mopped their respective faces. Bill changed the CD. Angela freshened her makeup. Both sighed. They sat on the edge of Bill's bed and listened to the music, each reluctant to meet the other's eyes.
Bill put his hand on Angela's shoulder. She startled visibly. "You're so tense," he said.
"Yes," she replied. "My head aches. I feel terrible."
Bill began to massage her neck and shoulders. "Ohhhh," she said, "that feels better."
"I'm not trying to hit on you or anything, you know that. But why don't you lie down here and I'll rub your back. Maybe it would make you feel better."
Angela stretched out on the bed. "I can't understand why he would lie to me like that. I always told him the truth. Always. He knew he could trust me. I would never lie to him. I'm a totally honest person. What makes people lie like that?"
"I don't know. I do know that John has been lying to you, though. I should have told you, but he didn't want me to. He was seeing Kathy. He got her pregnant. That's why Adam committed suicide, and why Kathy had to leave school."
Angela leaped up. "What???? He got HER pregnant too?"
"Yes, he did. Come on, lie back down. You're getting all tensed up again. John is a lying bastard. Now he's probably going to betray Kim, too."
"They deserve each other. They're both liars."
"What did he tell her?"
"Kim. What happened with John and Kim?"
"I don't know. I just walked into the basement and there they were. John said she only wanted a disk and there was nothing going on. Nothing going on! Hah! What a liar! She was lying there on the pool table with her legs up in the air wearing nothing but her leather shorts and boots. His grandma was right upstairs! I don't believe him! The nerve of that guy!"
"She was nude!? What did she say?"
"She didn't say anything. He didn't say anything. Nobody said anything."
"All my life I've been looking for the right person. I know there's someone out there somewhere, just for me. If only I keep looking, I know my life will be complete. I've known alot of girls. I treat them well. I take them to nice restaurants; I buy them flowers; I make them laugh. But it never works out. They get tired of me; I get tired of them. Kim was different. You are, too, Angela. You're my true friend. I never get tired of you."
"You're my friend, too, Bill. I don't think anyone else understands me the way you do. And I trust you. I feel comfortable with you." Bill began to stroke Angela's hair. "Oh, that feels so good. My headache is getting better already."
"You're so beautiful. I don't know how John could be interested in anyone else when he has you. What a fool."
"You're so sweet, Bill. And so kind. It's not fair. You deserve someone who appreciates you."
"I know. I appreciate you." Bill stretched out on the bed beside Angela, who turned to face him.
"I don't know what I would have done tonight without you to talk to, Bill. I was so desperate. I almost thought about killing myself. You don't know what kind of trouble I have...."
Bill touched Angela's face gently. "I won't be any trouble for you. I can make you feel better. I know how much he hurt you. Angela, I will never hurt you. I only want to make you happy."
"I do feel better. Thank you, Bill."
Bill leaned forward and kissed Angela deeply. She responded momentarily and then withdrew. She lay beside him on the bed, tears forming in her eyes. "No, Bill. We can't do this. I can't do this. How could you think I would want to? I have to go."
Bill took her hand and said, "Please, Angela. Don't go. I need you."
Angela stayed beside him, stroking his hair. Soon Bill kissed her again, and this time she let him. It was so pleasant, so relaxing just to lie still and be kissed. Bill wasn't as exciting as John, but he was warm and safe. Angela lost herself in kissing. After an interminable interval, Bill began to stroke her arm. She murmured and held him close. With that, Bill reached for the hem of her shirt. His hand was halfway to her breast before she realized it. Angela recoiled in horror. "I can't trust you at all!" she cried. She flew off the bed and back to her car, in tears once again.