ROPE by kalima
Summary: Tegan misplaces her key. She did not have a good time losing it. The Doctor sets out to retrieve it, and, in the process, changes a young man's perception of himself, and his place in the world.
Categories: Fifth Doctor
ROPE by kalima
Chapter 1: Chapter 1Author's Notes: This story was written in 2000 in an attempt to get a better handle on the characters by observing them through an outsider's point of view. The subject matter isn't pleasant, but no matter the incarnation, the Doctor changes everyone he touches, usually for the better, (though it can't always be seen right away.)
When the pounding in Justin’s head finally translated into a pounding somewhere outside his head---the rattle and bang of a fist upon the front door---he sat up with a start and was very sorry.
“Son of a bitch,” he whimpered, hands pressed to his ears to keep his brain from oozing out. The pounding was steady, unremitting, loud, but with no sense of urgency.
“Goddamn son of a bitch,” he groaned, untangling his limbs from the twist of blankets on the sofa. He spent a moment trying to get one foot through the leg of his jeans then gave up and stumbled to the door with a piss-proud boner wagging in his boxers.
The tall blond man on the front porch stopped his knuckles mid-knock just shy of Justin’s forehead. He was dressed in a cream-colored, seventies style wedding tux, wearing a pair of almost cool striped pants, a nerd-dick sweater in lieu of a cummerbund, and a piece of celery as a boutonniere. His smile reeked of door-to-door salesman but he could just as easily have been a local councilman out getting jiggy with the homeboys. Except for the celery. The celery was just weird.
“Hullo. Are you the man of the house?”
“We rent,” Justin grunted, and tried to close the door. It got stuck on the rug in the entry.
“Then perhaps you should speak with the landlord.” He had a refined English accent. The kind you mostly heard on public broadcast stations. Which was something of a coincidence since Justin’s roommate Matt had picked up a chick with an English-y sounding accent just the night before at LaLuna.
Justin continued to fight both door and bunched up rug while the strange man blithely jabbed a long finger at a button next to the mailbox.
“The bell appears to be out of order.”
Yeah, well, duh. “What I meant was,” Justin said between clenched teeth as he kicked the ugly fucking rug, and sent it spinning toward the coat closet, “if you’re selling security alarm systems or whatever, we, like, rent, you know, so we’re, like, not interested.”
The man’s smile tightened and was suddenly much less smarmy. "Actually, I’ve come because my friend believes she left her key here last night."
He stepped aside affording Justin a clear view of said “friend.” Sure enough, it was the girl from the night before, standing on the sidewalk in front of Matt’s Plymouth Sundance. She was dressed in the same black leather outfit, only now the jacket was zipped up to her neck instead of down to her navel. Her arms were crossed tight over her chest as she watched the cars passing on the street, carefully not looking at either Justin or her supposed friend on the porch. She must have come straight from wherever without checking a mirror because her hair still suffered from severe bed-head. She also had the pie dough color of a bad hangover. Not surprising. She’d been seriously wasted.
Justin never quite understood the appeal of fucking girls too drunk to know if they were having a good time. Besides, something about this one had tweaked a nerve in him last night, kind of like watching a cow on conveyer belt headed for the chainsaw. Nevertheless, he’d given up his oft ridiculed and yet highly prized waterbed, and crashed on the couch. This morning she’d stumbled past him, emitting a rabbit squeak of terror when he’d rolled over and muttered “hey.” She practically fell out the door in her hurry to escape.
He turned again to consider the man on his porch. A good-looking man in a bland, Church of Latter Day Saints sort of way. His smile, framed by broad dimples, was what took him out of the bland and into the dangerous, shining-Buddha realm of religious cult leader. The more the smile endeavored to be friendly and reassuring, the less reassured Justin was.
A vague alarm went off in his head. Vestigial nerve bundles in his brain stem screamed CRAWL UNDER ROCK, CRAWL UNDER ROCK. But the closest response his higher brain functions could approximate was reaching down to adjust the uncomfortable bulge in his shorts.
The eyes of the Englishman followed the gesture and looked up again, a fleeting distaste distorting the corners of his salesman’s smile.
“Um,” said Justin, almost but not quite meeting the man’s eyes, “I haven’t seen a key, man–“
“Oh dear. It’s terribly important that we find it. You don’t mind if I have a quick look around do you?”
Before Justin could protest, the guy was in the house.
“Dude, I said didn’t see a key–“
“Actually you said you hadn’t seen it, which is quite different, though, er… perfectly understandable…considering…”
Justin found him in the living room, looking like he’d just walked into a minefield, his arms out for balance, and one perfectly white wrestling shoe hovering above the floor.
Occasionally, some one got a wild hair up the ass (Justin usually), or some crystal meth up the nose (Matt, Stig, or Kara usually), and then it’d be, whoa, look out, Daddy’s got a toothbrush, and he’s ready to scrub grout! But that was rare and this was…well, this was House in all its glory.
The man secured a bare patch of baby-shit brown carpet, and put his spotless shoe there. From out of the mess, as if answering the siren call of a can opener only they could hear, came Butt Munch and Baby Jesus, the gray tabby sisters. The pads of their feet picked delicately through crumpled pages of Rolling Stone and The Rocket, pizza boxes and beer bottles, steel-toed boots and fuzzy slippers, ashtrays and guitar picks.
Known primarily for the fact that they didn’t need no stinking humans, the cats headed straight for the stranger with the celery in his lapel and immediately began rubbing their heads with sensual abandon all over his striped pant legs. He leaned down, scratching both of them between their ears, but his gaze was drawn to the makeshift bed on the sofa as if looking for a secret cipher in the twisted blankets and stained pillows. The cats purred in bizarre harmony under his fingers.
“Looks a bit uncomfortable,” he commented, with a slight nod to Justin’s temporary billet. “Not where you usually sleep is it?”
“Uh, no. My sister’s here for the weekend and she’s staying in Matt’s room. He wanted to use mine cuz I have a waterbed–“ Justin broke off, wondering what had possessed him to offer so much information.
“Look man, if you’re here to beat the crap out of him or something--"
English Dude straightened abruptly and the cats emitted disappointed little squeaks. “Now why should I want to do that?”
Justin swallowed, and shrugged. “You’re her boyfriend, right?”
“No,” the man replied.
When it became clear that the man wasn’t going to elaborate, Justin started looking around for a cigarette. “Yeah. Sure. Okay. Whatever. I’ll tell Matt that, uh---that the chick he was with–“
“Tegan,” the stranger said coolly.
“Yeah. I’ll tell him she’s looking for her key, okay? He’ll call if he finds it–“
“Oh, I’m afraid we can’t be reached by phone.” He peered over Justin’s shoulder down the hallway that led to the kitchen. “Is Matt here then?”
Justin tried valiantly to make of himself a wall between the man and the corridor. “No,” he lied.
“Pity. I did so want to introduce myself.” Feinting to the right, the guy dodged left past Justin, muttering, “Waterbed on the main floor I should think.”
Unable to believe he’d fallen for such a Three Stooges maneuver, Justin stumbled after him. “Dude! You can’t just walk in and–“
But the Englishman was busy throwing open doors and summarily rejecting them. “No. No. No.” He reeled back at the sight of the bathroom. “Good heavens, I hope no one actually sits on that! Ah. Here we are.”
The room stank of beer sweat, stale cigarettes, and spent jiz. Matt was sprawled naked across the bed, snoring in stuporous ignorance, his butt and legs glued to the bare vinyl, the sheets crumpled beneath his back.
Justin was suddenly, acutely mortified by the state of his own room (which could only be partly attributed to Matt’s activities in the wee hours). Nevertheless he was prepared to take offence at the slightest indication of snobby British attitude. He balled his fists and sidled a glance at the guy, but there was nothing remotely effete in the man’s expression. In fact, his expression had undergone a subtle, but frightening metamorphosis.
More than pissed, more than outraged, the blue in the stranger’s eyes seemed to flare up and burst against Justin’s retinas, a hot and scary incandescence that brought certain antiquated notions into visceral clarity — horsewhippings and pillories and smiting swords of justice.
English Dude took a step into the room, then another, making his way to the bed. Justin’s own physical discomforts---hangover, thirst, and serious need to urinate---took a backseat to an altogether different sensation. He was instantly afraid for Matt, a soul-deep existential fear. Whatever Matt had done was far worse than screwing somebody’s girlfriend, he could feel it in the man’s careful approach. Another step. The toe of a bright shoe knocked into an ashtray and the ashtray spilled its contents onto the already stained carpet---cigarettes butts, tiny roaches of mostly burnt paper and resin, and at least one used condom. Crumpled next to it was a pair of pink panties.
The man gave a little gasp---the kind that comes not from being embarrassed, but from being embarrassed for someone---and snatched the panties from the floor, secreting them with an almost shame-faced furtiveness into a trouser pocket. For a moment it seemed he was fighting an urge to flee. He probably would have left right then if he hadn’t spotted the other item next to the ashtray.
It was a plastic zip-lock baggie, and even from his position in the doorway Justin could easily tell there were pharmaceuticals in the bag. Apparently Matt had been holding out on his friends.
English Dude stared down at the baggie for a few seconds before he finally let out a resigned sigh and picked it up. He opened the zip and shook out a red and pink capsule, rolling it around in his palm for a while before pulling the capsule apart and dumping the contents into his mouth.
Justin gasped. “You don’t even know what that is!“
The man looked thoughtful then spat the saliva-moistened paste back into his hand. “It’s flunitrazepam,” he said, wiping his hand with a handkerchief.
Justin barked a startled laugh as he moved farther into his room, eyes drawn to the bag and its contents. “You Starsky or Hutch?”
“I’m not police.”
“Uh huh. So what’s fluni-pam-e zam whatever you said?”
Justin shook his head, watching the baggie disappear into another pocket---not the same one as the girl’s underwear. English Dude adjusted the stick of celery at his lapel, and cocked a disbelieving eye at the uncomprehending Justin. “Oh, come now, surely every frat boy in the States has heard of Rohypnol by now.”
“I’m not a frat boy,” Justin groused. “I’m in a fucking band for Christ’s sake.”
Silence, then a look that made Justin feel like a ten year old who’d just used the “F” word in front of his grade school vice principal.
“Of course,” English Dude said. “My mistake. But you do know what ruffies are don’t you, Justin?”
The fact that this strange man knew his name without having been told didn’t register, not then, wouldn’t even occur to him until weeks later. His mind was too full of this impossible other thing. “Ruffies? Are you shittin’ me, man? That date rape drug?”
“Yes. That one.”
“No way. That’s not possible.”
“Of course it is. It’s remarkably easy to get. Let’s see, 1996 is it? Any puerile little oaf can–“
“No,” Justin said. “No, that’s not– no, see, Matt’s the one who always gets the girl. He’s the handsome one. He doesn’t need to–“
“Well, no one needs to, do they?” English Dude snapped. He moved from one side of the bed to the other, like a cat waiting for his stunned and defenseless prey to perk up and provide a little challenge. “He doesn’t look so very handsome to me. Of course, I’m not a woman in a smoky nightclub whose drink has been drugged–“
Justin gazed about the room — his room -- seeking an emotional anchor. Something, anything, not tainted with the kind of shit he could shovel into garbage bags or burn in the fireplace. “Look. I don’t know what your friend told you but I think there’s been some kind of mistake.”
“Matt made it.”
Justin’s eyes flicked to the bed as it gently undulated beneath the force of Matt’s snoring. He wanted Matt to wake up---afraid of what would happen when he did wake up, hating Matt for putting him in the position of caring what happened, and amazed that the asshole could sleep through all this talk about him.
English Dude’s voice startled him with its quiet conversational blandness. He turned.
“Doubtless young Matt here realized he was unlikely to run into my friend again in the foreseeable future.” The man’s expression was oddly contrite. “We travel a great deal, never in one place for very long. It’s not a bad life, for me anyway.” He leaned over Matt, and prodded him with a knife-like finger. Matt merely snuffled, snorted and rolled over. English Dude straightened with a sound suspiciously like harrumph. “It’s a wonder she found her way back to the TARDIS at all. Rohypnol can cause amnesia, certainly impairs motor function. The poor girl’s mortified as you can imagine. She’s under the impression she had too much to drink, did something foolish, and blacked out–“
“But she did!” Justin blurted. “She was drunk. Hammered. Totally shit-faced. I saw her, man! It’s a miracle nothing worse happened to her. At least he had sense enough to use a condom.”
The man shuddered slightly, his mouth in a prudish grimace that would have made Justin laugh under any other circumstance.
“Yes, that was remarkably clear-headed thinking on his part, wasn’t it? Suspiciously so.” He started picking things up from the floor, kicking aside others, obviously searching for something. The lost key, Justin supposed, though he knew the key bit was just an excuse to get in the house.
“But you see,” the man continued, “Tegan remembers virtually nothing after her second gin and tonic, and in my experience it usually takes more than a couple of gin and tonics to put an Aussie under the table. I could be wrong. I have been, once or twice. The fact is, she knows something happened. I mean there’s the, er, physical evidence, isn’t there? A woman would most certainly know if she’d been… with someone.“ He stopped to shake an uncomfortable image from his head before resuming his search. “I really can’t see Tegan allowing someone to brand her with those–those love bites or dickeys–“
“Hickeys,” Justin corrected automatically.
“Whatever. At any rate, I’m certain she didn’t have them yesterday– Gosh. What a splendid specimen!”
Reeling from the non sequitur, Justin blinked and watched English Dude wade through an ocean of dirty/clean clothes to get to the baseball bat leaning against the doorjamb.
“Wow. They don’t make them like this anymore!” he cried, testing the weight and balance of the bat with an easy grace. “I could go back and pick it up when it was new of course, but it could never achieve this patina---sweat and spit and dust worn into the grain. Where did you get it?”
The reverence and gee-whiz enthusiasm managed to throw Justin off balance once again. “Um…my granddad gave it to me. He played in the minor leagues in the fifties.”
“Well, it’s nothing short of magnificent, I hope you know. Aluminum can’t hold a candle to a stout piece of hickory.” He rotated his wrist so that the end of the bat circled a few inches above the floor. “Do you play?”
“Not much. Not anymore.”
“Nor I. Never get the time.” He laughed, as if he’d said something really funny. “What I wouldn’t give for just one glorious summer of nothing else to do. Of course,” he said, raising the bat to his shoulder, his smile dazzling and dangerous. “Baseball’s not really my game.”
Justin’s hair flew back from his forehead. A deep-pitched whistle sounded a fraction of second later, as if the bat’s motion through the air had broken the sound barrier.
His legs wobbled suddenly, and he gave up trying to stand on them.
“I say, are you all right?”
“I-I-I need to go to the bathroom.”
“Oh…well, perhaps you should go then.”
Glancing up from his position of abject cowering, and into the bemused expression of English Dude, Justin sputtered, “Yeah, right, then what happens? I come back and find Matt’s head open–“
“Well, I’ve a few questions I’d like to ask– Wait. What do you mean? You can’t think I intend to–“
“Smash his melon? Break his kneecaps? Hell yeah! This is some kind of ‘avenge her honor’ bullshit, right?”
“Good heavens, no! Why would you think–? Oh. Oh, dear.” The bat was carefully returned to its place by the door. When he spoke again his voice was subdued, almost sheepish. “Really, I only came here looking for her key. It’s not the sort of key that’s easily replaced. I was quite angry with her for losing it. Scolded her dreadfully. But I’ve scolded her worse for far less, and she never burst into tears over it.” Suddenly, he scowled and folded his arms over his chest. “She shouldn’t have gone off on her own like that. I did warn her. Just because it’s twentieth century Earth, and the locals speak your lingo doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous. And what did she tell me then? That I brought the danger with me and infected every place we went. Which was just — just cruel. And not true. Really. Really, not true. None of this would have happened if she’d listened to me, done as I said. But, of course I can’t say that because she’s crying and her stockings are torn and she has these marks on her–“ He broke off with a noisy sigh. “I’m not good with these intimate moments, the tears and such. But one can only say ‘brave heart, Tegan’ so often without running the risk of being cold-cocked by a dainty fist, hhmmm?
“Really, Justin, do scurry off and void your bladder. It makes me uncomfortable just to look at you.”
Justin scrambled to his feet and limped to the bathroom. When he returned he’d had a chance to mull things over.
“Look,” he began, “your friend said it was only her second drink, right? But when people are partying hard they don’t keep a real good count of how many they’ve had. They get wasted. And sometimes — a lot of the times, man -- they go home with people they wish they hadn’t. It happens, dude.”
The man’s jaw tensed. “That’s not what happened to her.”
“You don’t know it didn’t happen that way and, apparently, neither does she! All you have is a lot of circumstantial evidence.”
“You’re right.” English Dude flashed his dimples. “Let’s wake up Matt and ask him, shall we?”
In a blink he was at the bed. He pressed his fists into the vinyl mattress and shoved down with all his weight so that the displaced liquid pushed up and Matt’s helpless body rode the wave over the opposite side to hit the floor with a grunt and thud.
The first person Matt saw was Justin. He sat up, all knobby knees and stubble. “Are you crazy? You could have fuckin’ killed me!”
Justin stared at him, replaying the slow motion farce of Matt going over the side. He laughed explosively.
English Dude stepped into Matt’s line of sight. “Oh please. Blame me. I’m entirely responsible.”
Matt grabbed a pillow and put it over his lap. “Who the hell are you?”
“I’m the Doctor.”
“What the hell kind of doctor throws a guy out of his bed?”
“A doctor of rude awakenings.”
Justin laughed harder. The Doctor shushed him. He smiled the smile at Matt that was supposed to put him at his ease. Matt shrunk back slightly.
“I have a few questions,” he said, pulling the baggie from his pocket.
Matt’s eyes narrowed. “Where did you get that?”
“On the floor next to the bed. Yours?”
“What if it is? It’s not illegal,” he said, chin thrust out defiantly.
“No? Tad bit immoral though, don’t you think? And certainly evil in a pathetic, small-minded, lazy sort of way.”
Matt wet his lips. Justin could almost see the remaining brain cells scrambling for a defense. English Dude’s gaze stayed fixed on the young man’s face. He didn’t even blink. Finally Matt drew up his knees and hid his head in his hands. “Bitch told me she didn’t have a boyfriend.”
Justin tensed, the swing of the bat still ringing in his ears.
English Dude---the Doctor---seemed eerily calm. “I’m not her boyfriend. I haven’t been a boy in a very long time. I am her friend however, and I will thank you not to refer to her in that manner again.”
“Get bent,” Matt replied. “And while you’re at it, get out of my house.” He really really didn’t get it. At all.
Surprisingly, (especially to himself) it was Justin, and not the Doctor, that totally lost it.
“Shut up!” he cried. “Just shut the fuck up! This is my house too! Jesus, I can’t believe you! You really did it? You actually slipped her a mickey like in some bad spy movie? What for? Why would you do something like that? In my bed. Oh my god. You raped somebody in my bed–“
“I didn’t rape her, man. It’s not like she didn’t want to–“
“Oh my god, oh my god, I let my sister sleep in your room! Oh my god.”
“Geez, chill man, okay? You know I’d ever mess with Heather. I could’ve. She totally came on to me, but I didn’t — out of respect for you, bro–“
Justin balled his fists and growled. “The girl you doped up last night could be somebody’s sister, bro!” He was pacing now, back and forth, arms gesticulating like crazy, even though all he could feel was the searing paralysis of betrayal. “Why Matt? I don’t get it. You can have pretty much anyone, anyone you want. You even — with Kara -- when you knew I was in love with her.”
“You think I like being this way? I can’t help how they feel about me. It’s not as great as you think.”
Justin blinked back tears of rage. “That is so wrong, man, I don’t even know where to begin–“
“Oh,” the Doctor interjected, “I think I see his problem now. Always having to shine and be clever. Charisma can be such a burden. The constant flirtations, and the tedious seductions---not to mention the foreplay! I imagine they also have an unfortunate tendency to fall in love as well, don’t they? Hang about for weeks and weeks afterwards, and won’t go away until you’re exhausted from doing a hundred hurtful little things to make them go.
“But with these–“ he shook the baggie–“there’s no need for all the fuss and bother. Do just as you please with the young woman and she doesn’t remember, probably doesn’t want to remember. That’s all right though, because sometimes a fellow just wants to get in and get out without all the kissing and rubbing business. Am I right?”
Clearly, the burden of his charm was real and very painful to Matt---particularly in the wake of a vicious hangover. He fell back on the floor and stared up at the ceiling, tears rolling down the sides of his face. “There’s no way you can understand what it’s like.”
“Why is that, Matt? Because we’re not cursed with your oh-so-angst-ridden good-looks? I wish Heather and Kara could see you now man, ‘cause you look like the shit you are.”
On cue a woman called out from the front room. “Hullo?”
Her voice was tremulous with anxiety, and overloud to compensate for it. “Hullo? Doctor? Are you in here?”
“Yes, yes, I’m here!” the Doctor shouted over his shoulder. “Down the hall. Last door on the left.”
Matt sat up, hurriedly pulling the stained pillow over his crotch again, and swiping a hand across his eyes. But the owner of the voice failed to appear.
“Did you find it?” she called from the vicinity of the living room.
“Not yet. Come help me look.”
“It’s probably not here. I could have lost it anywhere. I was blind drunk–“
“Not so drunk as you imagine. Come on. I won’t let the bed bugs bite you.”
After a moment, there was a pad of footsteps over the worn carpet of the hall and then the girl’s face peered into the room. She gasped, drew back immediately, and spun away from the sight, wrapping her arms around herself tightly.
The Doctor went to her, but rather than urging her to face him he simply lifted the capsule-filled baggie over her head, and dangled it before her eyes. “Surprise. You were drugged.”
Her head drooped lower and lower until all Justin could see from his perspective were the tendrils of auburn hair at the back of her neck, the knobs of her vertebrae, and the slope of her shoulders in the black leather. It was poignantly obvious at that moment she wasn’t a black leather kind of girl.
“Did you hear me?”
“Of course I heard you.” Her voice crackled like static on a car radio, and her head shot up again. “Look. Do you think the key’s here or not?”
English Dude’s adam’s apple bobbed convulsively. It seemed he’d been expecting a much different, more energetic response to his revelation.
“Yee-es. It’s definitely here. I can sense it.”
“Great.” She turned, and pushed past him into the room. “Let’s find it and get out.”
He stood, looking all pensive, scratching the back of his head. “Erm. All right. But I was about to search the bed.”
She could hardly ignore the implications of a thing that took up so much space in the room. She could, however, ignore Matt. Her imperious dismissal of the bare-assed, miserable creature on the floor endeared her instantly to Justin.
She chose to start her search as far from him as possible, on the opposite side of bed, thrusting her hands between the vinyl and the padded frame with an expression similar to that of, say, a student nurse helping a geriatric letch to pee in a cup. The Doctor guy stepped over Matt’s knees and began searching on his side.
“I had it around my neck,” she muttered. “On a ribbon. A pink ribbon.”
“Yes, I know where you had it,” he muttered back. “I’m not blind.”
“You wouldn’t notice if I walked around starkers everywhere we went–“
“I’d certainly notice that. Well, the goose pimples. Probably.”
“Pink. Pink ribbon,” she repeated.
“Yes, yes. Same color as your– hullo, what have we here?” He pulled his hand free with difficulty, but his look of triumph faded quickly at the sight of a plastic novelty whistle on a matching string.
She tore the crumpled sheets from their moorings, the efforts of her searching becoming more forceful and less productive as she made her way to the foot of the bed. Suddenly she straightened, and put her hands on her hips. Her gaze slid to the right, skimming over the space Matt occupied, then returned to engage her friend.
“You know what’s funny?”
The Doctor's eyes widened, clearly seeing nothing funny in the situation at all. He started to say something, stopped, and shook his head.
“This is the most normal thing that’s happened to me since I met you.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered.
She glanced at Matt with a self-deprecating laugh. “Maybe not so much funny as pathetic. I mean, I’m not the sort of girl who–“ She looked at the Englishman suddenly, her eyes wide, pleading, “You know that about me, don’t you?” His expression softened, and he nodded. “But there I was, drink in hand, gorgeous bit of flesh chatting me up, and all I could think was, yeah, serve the Doctor right if I went off with this bloke, wouldn’t it? Another dance, few more drinks, I might have done it too.”
Matt looked up sharply, red-eyed and miserable, then looked down again.
“I mean, I might have chosen to do it. He was saying all the right things. He made me feel…feel good about myself, you know, and I hadn’t felt that way in a very long time.”
At this revelation Justin saw the Doctor’s face crumple. A world of guilt spun in the way his eyelids shuttered and opened again. Tegan didn’t notice. She cocked her head at Matt, speaking directly to him for the first time. “I was angry, and lonely, and you seemed nice. I think I might have gone home with you. I wanted to. The only reason I wouldn’t have, the choice you took away from me, was…I didn’t think it was right to use you to fill a void in me.” She took a deep breath, and all the armor fell back into place. “And that, Doctor, is what makes this so funny.”
Then, for some strange reason, maybe because she couldn’t look at her friend, and she didn’t want to look at Matt anymore, she looked at Justin. Her eyes were dark, liquid brown, and full of unaccustomed apathy. It was a state of being that didn’t seem to suit her anymore than black leather. Justin had a sudden impression of Tegan in her natural state: loud, opinionated and fiercely sexy in a plain skirt and blouse. He wanted to take her away from all this, release her into the wilds of a suburb somewhere.
She blew out a noisy sigh that seemed to go on forever. One hand rested wearily on her hip as she ran a cool eye over Matt. “Probably would have been forgettable even without drugs.”
“Ha!” English Dude snorted an appreciative laugh. “There’s my Tegan back again.”
He didn’t catch the startled look she gave him, or the blush, or the confused fluttering of her lashes. With a final plunge into the depths of the vinyl, the strange man with the celery boutonniere dug around industriously for a moment and then miraculously withdrew the missing key from its hiding place.
“Voila,” he cried, pink silk ribbon threaded through his elegant fingers, key dangling. He offered it with a courtly flourish. Her gratitude was almost embarrassing, especially considering that Justin could’ve sworn he saw the guy pull the ribbon from his pocket a fraction of a second before he held it aloft triumphantly.
Anyway, it didn’t look anything like a house key, or even a hotel room key. The shape reminded him of a Volkswagen key with the skinny key part broken off. He knew somehow the shape was supposed to remind him of Volkswagens, of his granddad’s old red beetle for instance, the one that took him to all those butterscotch summer afternoons swinging the hickory to smooth pitches.
The Doctor said something about “turlo and tea” (which Justin assumed was some English-y snack treat) and then he and his girlfriend (who supposedly wasn’t his girlfriend) left. Just like that. No wrath of God. No police. They didn’t even call a cab.
And nothing came of it. Well, except the band broke up. And Matt moved into some tiny little garden apartment with Kara until she decided she was a lesbian and kicked him out. Justin’s sister Heather went back to school and fell in love with an eco-terrorist and three years later got arrested at the anti-W.T.O. rallies in Seattle.
Justin joined the softball team at work and got another band together. They called themselves the Hickory Sticks.
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