New Burbage, 1998: Geoffrey's been out in the world for six months, and he still hasn't decided whether he'd glad or not. He can't go to Yong's; he can't go to the neighborhood Ellen lives; he can't go to the neighborhood Oliver lives either, although that's easy, since Oliver lives in a tarted-up house practically on top of the Rose, and there's no way Geoffrey is going anywhere near the Festival. He could probably go down to the river, Oliver's Ganges North, except that he hears Oliver in his head and he still suspects the police might try to preemptively arrest him again so he doesn't do anything untoward to the swans.
Probably he should move away. Out of New Burbage, out of Ontario, to somewhere no one knows him or cares, where he might be free. But Geoffrey thinks of being away from Ellen, away from Oliver, someplace no one's heard of them, and he thinks no, without them he will melt, thaw, resolve himself into a dew, and he stays frozen in the same place he's been for fifteen fucking years.
The doctors give him a note that says he'll be a good boy, but no one wants to rent to him. He tries the fan card once or twice, but it doesn't work, and for nearly a solid month he's back in the clinic every evening, apologizing to Janice the receptionist while she wearily rings to see if they have a free room.
Then he meets Cheryl. She's in the aisle of a grocery store, the run-down co-op he knows Oliver and Ellen would never think to go to. She gets a look of awe on her face, like she's seeing Geoffrey examining a head of lettuce and overlaying it with Yorick's skull; that's how he sees her, notices her knowing him. Part of Geoffrey wants to run from that look, but the rest of him hears her say the words I'll give you the room for free and he's so grateful he nearly weeps.
She has a house converted and forced into the feel of an apartment by the sheer commercialism of the town, but it's the material backlash against New-Burbage-the-gift-shop, filled with paintings and clutter and playbooks crammed into all the bookshelves. "The, um, the only thing," Cheryl says, when Geoffrey drags in his weary bones and thrift store clothes and the suitcased remnants of another life, "is I've got to rent it out to a few other people too. It's most of my income, Geoffrey."
"I can pay," Geoffrey tells her, sinking onto the couch. He likes the idea of stuffing all his old playbooks in with the ones on her shelves. "I haven't been spending much money recently, you know."
"Oh, no, no," Cheryl assures him. She's comfortably round, cheerful-faced, wears bright colors. By six months, Geoffrey's paying half the rent he should, but he's paying. "I just thought you should know, we're going to have other people in the house sometimes. Sometimes actors."
The people in the touring studio productions at the Festival. Geoffrey knows.
"It's fine," he tells her. "I'm fine with people." Now.
The first few boarders they have are completely unmemorable. A man writing a book about the Festival; Geoffrey avoids him as much as possible. Four girls, young and waifish and full of energy and enthusiasm, part of the dance troupe that's presumably performing in one of the Festival's black box theatres. And then.
The day he comes, Cheryl's out. She's scouting warehouses for a feasible space for the theatre she and Geoffrey are considering. For Geoffrey it's mostly still somewhere beyond a pipe dream, more like a half-drunken suggestion he's liable to make over the beer he downs to get through Cheryl's late-night-news and hockey-watching habit. But even if the idea still seems a little alcohol-fuzzed to him, he likes it. People are more likely to rent a space to Cheryl; Geoffrey stays home, reading through their extensive play collection, dreaming up low-budget set designs.
When the doorbell rings, he answers it. He doesn't want to. He hates people. But he has to live in the world, so Geoffrey opens the door.
Oh Jesus, is the first thing he thinks. Guitar case, long-fingered hands, touch of jewelry, beat-up leather jacket, spiky blond hair, and the crowning touch, a slightly-too-pretty face with exactly the air of haunted defiance that's impossible to fake. The man's breath puffs momentarily silver in the cold autumn air, and Geoffrey's still standing there, speechless at the door while the chill creeps into the house. He's never wanted anyone but Ellen in his life, but for a split second he's rocked to the core by -- by --
"Hi," Geoffrey says, and tries an ill-fitting smile. Basil will want to give him a write-up for poor performance. "Can I help you?"
"Yeah. Billy Tallent," the man says, and there's something strangely symmetrical in the cadence of it, like Geoffrey's name through a funhouse mirror, covered in glamour. Or it could just be a name. Geoffrey's not entirely comfortable with the diagnosis of sanity they've given him yet. Billy Tallent shifts his grip on the guitar case and holds out a hand, which Geoffrey takes, again a beat too late.
"Geoffrey Tennant," Geoffrey says, and identifies the symmetry of the cadence for what it is: both of them say their names like they expect to be recognized.
Billy Tallent blinks, once, the smallest of signifiers, but Geoffrey catches it regardless: Billy, at least, knows his name. But he just shakes Geoffrey's hand, quick, wanting as little contact as Geoffrey does. "I hear you've got rooms?"
"That's right." Geoffrey clears his throat and shuffles aside awkwardly to let Billy in. "We're used to actors and, uh, musicians being in and out quickly, so it's only a little up front and we rent by the week. You can move in today if you like it."
Billy takes a step inside, gives the cluttered front room a cursory once-over, and says, "Sounds great. How much?"
Cheryl acts normal over dinner, while Billy orders in from Yong's and retreats to his new room, but as soon as he's gone, she turns to Geoffrey with huge eyes and says, "Oh my God, Geoffrey, Billy Tallent!"
Geoffrey leans his chair back on two legs and finishes off the last microwaved waffle. "Stage name?" he guesses.
Cheryl has suds halfway up her arms. She looks as blank as though Geoffrey has suddenly proposed something outrageous enough to be worthy of Darren Nichols. "Geoffrey," she says, very slowly and carefully, "Billy Tallent. I know you've been out of the world and I know you don't listen to music, but you've heard of Jenifur, right? The band?"
"Some of us don't even listen to the radio," Geoffrey says unconcernedly, leaning further back. He wonders if one of the chair legs will break.
"Okay," Cheryl says, shaking her head in despair. "What about Hard Core Logo?" Geoffrey shrugs eloquently. She sighs. "Geoffrey, I know you don't listen to the radio, but you do watch the news sometimes, right?"
"Only with you," Geoffrey says wryly.
That draws a laugh from her, and Cheryl turns back to the dishes. Geoffrey cautiously brings the chair's front legs back down to the floor, wondering if they're done here, if it's time for him to resume his note-taking in the margins of a Stoppard anthology he bought used over the weekend, when Cheryl suddenly goes still, epiphany-still. The chair legs come down with a thump, but Geoffrey doesn't get up; waits. "I just remembered," Cheryl says, apparently to a chipped and soapy mug that probably says ALL THE WORLD'S A STAGE or something equally obnoxious, "it happened in, um, the fall of '96. You wouldn't have been watching the news."
Geoffrey swallows a half-hysterical chuckle. "No," he agrees. "What happened?"
Cheryl shrugs. "His last band broke up. There was a death and big mess, and there's this documentary of it and everything. Kind of a big deal for about a year. He was in the States, though, that's the Jenifur thing. Did he say what he was doing up here?"
"No," Geoffrey says, standing. "I didn't ask. And now I'm going to write some notes and not listen to your horrible gossip." He presses a friendly kiss to her hair, and leaves her laughing again behind him. Christ. Let people live their lives. But Cheryl means well, and nearly five months in the same house as Geoffrey haven't quite trained her out of a fascination with drama, even though by now she's more than comfortable yelling at him for not putting his dishes away.
Uncounted hours later, Geoffrey's eyes are aching, his image reflected back at him from the window against the dark outside, and he's too full of ideas to slow his brain enough for sleep. Too few months ago, this would mean lying on his back in his bed, staring at the white ceiling until all of the blank spaces were filled with Oliver and Ellen fucking, until he fell into restless sleep, all his muscles aching with tense exhaustion. Now he has a whole house and town and world to banish his bad dreams. He crawls out of bed and wanders downstairs.
There's a light on in the front room. Geoffrey stops in the doorway. Billy Tallent, he sees, curled up on the couch like a kid, reading one of Cheryl's playbooks one-handed, the other holding a cigarette. The strange familiarity-unfamiliarity of the tableau catches for a moment in Geoffrey's chest, and he retreats to the kitchen for a beer. He stands in front of the open refrigerator for too long, listening to the white hum, before heading back out.
Billy has evidently heard him moving around, because when Geoffrey passes through the living room doorway, their eyes catch. Geoffrey pauses. "Hey."
"Hi," Billy says, leaning back, his eyes narrow: studied laziness. "Can't sleep?"
"No," Geoffrey admits, taking the implied invitation and coming into the room. He settles into an armchair, uncapping his beer and taking a long swallow. Mellows him out on hockey nights, does a world of good for insomnia too. He looks up at Billy. Billy's watching him inscrutably. "Can't read anymore either. It feels like my eyeballs will fall out."
Billy snorts softly, fumbling in his pocket and pulling out his pack of cigarettes. He lights up another, not looking away from Geoffrey. "I thought maybe Shakespeare would put me to sleep."
"Not if it's done right," Geoffrey says automatically.
"Maybe," Billy returns, an abstracted noise. He's going through his smoke fast, like he needs it to calm down, and he still hasn't looked away. But he's not really looking at Geoffrey, not right at Geoffrey, and Geoffrey gets it, one of those stupid fucking jolts he shouldn't have to need; actors are selfish people is a bullshit excuse. He's no good at hiding at the best of times, especially not like this, too tired and with the beginnings of a buzz, and Billy sees it, sees the moment Geoffrey realizes. He gives a bitter little chuckle. "Fuck that, don't worry about it," he says. Third cigarette. "Tell me about Shakespeare or something."
Geoffrey mostly wants to go throw his beer away. He makes a meaningless gesture and starts to rise.
"Fuck, or something," Billy says, harshly, and Geoffrey sits back down with a thump, pulled in by the shocking gravity of momentary honesty. Billy flicks ash onto the sofa. "Actors. What do actors do when they can't sleep?"
Drink. Run lines. "Sleep with each other," Geoffrey says, the third thought coming out of his mouth when he'd meant the second one to. Damn it all.
"Musicians too," Billy says, and looks at him narrowly, like he's caught on that Geoffrey's indulging the small talk and has a polite stranglehold on the neck of his beer bottle. "Bet you figured that one."
"There are certain assumptions," Geoffrey admits. He feels the surreal precipice opening up in his mind don'ttalkaboutEllen and for a moment he sees it reflected in Billy's face, sees the echo of a moment torn out and empty, passionless. Geoffrey raises his beer reflexively and aborts the motion. "What else?" he asks, helpless.
Billy looks at him for a long moment. Tilts his head back, breathes out smoke. "Word games," he says. "Say a movie, take the last letter, say another starting with that one, keep going until you can't remember anymore with Rs and Es and Ss."
"I don't know very many," Geoffrey says.
"Fuck," Billy says, looking back over at Geoffrey. There's the faintest twitch of a smile about his lips. "Try anyway."
In the morning Billy wants to look at rehearsal spaces with them. Cheryl agrees with every appearance of nonchalance, but over their communal eggs and toast she gives Billy so many curious sideways looks that he finally snaps, "Ask it."
"Where's the rest of Jenifur?" she asks, with reflexive obedience. Something about Billy Tallent goes straight to the hindbrain. Geoffrey grins into his orange juice.
"Writing," Billy says, smooth and practiced. "We're done with the last tour, and we don't start recording until next month. I don't write; I get vacation time."
"And you miss Canada?" Cheryl asks, like she already knows the answer.
"Yeah," Billy says, giving it to her with the perfect easy smile. Geoffrey finishes his eggs and ignores Polonius muttering in his head. Billy goes outside for a smoke while Cheryl and Geoffrey do the dishes in a quick, cursory way, and they all head out in Cheryl's old clunker to look for warehouse rehearsal space.
Two days of looking. Cheryl decides Billy's their good luck charm. Geoffrey thinks the guy they convince to rent out to them must have a screw loose or really want the money: they're too fucking motley for respectable. Cheryl on her own might be a convincingly responsible tenant, but with Geoffrey and Billy ranged behind her, messy-haired and unshaven in their too-soft dark threadbare clothes, it's a miracle it only takes them two days.
"Could I practice in here?" Billy asks while Cheryl's off signing the papers, he and Geoffrey standing alone in the respectably large concrete space. He gestures to the space at large, trailing a line of smoke from his hand. "Acoustic is fine for a while, but I brought my amp, and --"
"Sure," Geoffrey says. "Cheryl's insane anyway. I don't know what I want to stage. I don't know who would let me direct them. We're the penniless theatre, Christ, theatre sans argent, we'd be a fucking hit in Montreal ..."
Billy shrugs loosely but offers no opinion. Geoffrey can guess. Billy spent most of yesterday playing downstairs, while Geoffrey came up with and crumpled away more set designs, took notes, watched his hands shake because what is he doing, God, what makes him want to do theatre again? But he knows the answer. And he thinks he might know Billy's answer too, to the unasked question, is all this fucking stupidity even worth it, because in the evening Geoffrey went out and stopped by the record store, learned a bit about Jenifur, and then came home to Billy in the front room, so totally absorbed in his music that he didn't even register Geoffrey coming in. Geoffrey knows the score and the balance, the way sometimes, impossibly, art can be made within the system. Knows how nice it is to stay there, in the warm.
He slouches against the wall next to Billy. "I guess we're stuck here," he says, meaning until Cheryl's done with the papers, meaning ... he doesn't know.
Billy shrugs again, lighting another smoke off the end of the old one. It's a strangely Ellen gesture, kicking Geoffrey back into quiet spaces outside the stage door, in the back lot where the suits hadn't bothered to come through and tart it up for the guests: Ellen, leaning on the metal frame of the door, going nervously through a whole carton of fags in the brief space between run-through and the first trickling-in of the opening night crowd, evening settling in around them and the smoke melting into the strange-colored sky.
"Gone somewhere?" Billy asks softly, and Geoffrey is in a downstairs theatre, musty, mid-afternoon sunlight coming in through the high-up windows. Billy's watching him with a strange momentary flare in his eyes, and his fingers, half-curled in front of his mouth with the smoke a thin line between them, are suddenly shockingly graceful. Musician's fingers.
"Remembering," Geoffrey says, and Billy just nods, watching him with a quiet kinetic stillness Geoffrey's never seen anywhere else. It's fucking magic, draws the words out of him into the well of Billy's gravity, even though between his brain and his mouth they lose something. "But yours are American."
Billy understands anyway, pulls off a little and regards the cigarette between his fingertips like it means something. "It's fucking stupid. They cost more." He twists sideways and stubs it out against the concrete wall. "But it doesn't ... What do they call it. A sense-memory thing."
"Yeah," Geoffrey says wryly. He knows exactly what Billy means.
The next few days, he's brainstorming with Cheryl about cheap advertising, their first production, whether she's sure she wants to be a stage manager. She's sure. She's excited. Geoffrey gets excited too.
Billy mostly keeps out of their way; he'll turn up for breakfast, then vanish to their new rehearsal space like it's now an assumed part of his rent. Geoffrey finds himself finding ways to talk with him, small moments of quiet on the stairs, another too-late night playing the movie game. (Geoffrey runs out of ideas in about five minutes and starts naming Shakespeare plays. Billy makes a loud buzzer noise, obnoxious prick that he is, and he won't shut up until Geoffrey punches him in the arm. Then Billy laughs, a bright honest sound that catches in Geoffrey's chest again.) There's something about Billy that Geoffrey hasn't had in two years -- longer, maybe. Everything he remembers now about Ellen and Oliver feel like lies. The idea of someone understanding him, unassumed and demanding nothing but a return of attention, twists inside Geoffrey into some strange shape resembling joy.
He realizes, almost a week into Billy's stay, that he needs to know.
He goes back to the record store, and asks after Hard Core Logo. The clerk gets very excited and needs to be calmed the hell down before he's directed to the video store on the corner, the clerk calling after him, "And we have all their albums here!"
Geoffrey rolls his eyes and rents the documentary. He takes it home to the quiet empty house and settles in. For an explanation, that's all; not enlightenment. And after the first few minutes of quiet skepticism -- Christ, will those bongos play through the entire thing? and the music does nothing for him -- Geoffrey suddenly finds himself interested. Interested, because Billy is a complete lack of surprise, subtly whoring himself for the camera, sideways glances and half-smiles and the faintest edge of fuck-you attitude, a perfect performance just shy of perfection, things Geoffrey already knows -- and then there's Joe. Jesus Christ. Joe, completely unstudied, completely caught up in this thing and catching Geoffrey up with him. Joe, with a little tilt to his head, asking the camera, "So what, are you playing us off against each other? So that would make you kind of a cunt, wouldn't it?" and on Cheryl's ridiculous beat-up floral sofa Geoffrey barks out a laugh of astonished joy.
It isn't ... what he'd expected. Despite the music, despite the obvious patchwork lie that makes up the final cut, there is something raw and honest about this damn film, something -- something Geoffrey overused and abused, applied with indiscriminate disaster to his own life, something Shakespearean. Geoffrey catches onto it, catches on somewhere during a lonely stretch of highway and thinks, Ah: Pipefitter is your rustic clown, John your honest fool; and Billy is somewhere in a warehouse, rehearsing guitar riffs and grinding his way down to nothing, which makes him impossible to cast, because Geoffrey doesn't know the play. Antony and Cleopatra, Romeo and Juliet, wrong, wrong, Billy's still breathing.
At the end Geoffrey sits through the white noise hum of the credits, wondering how the hell Billy and Joe ended up with scripts for completely different plays.
He switches off the TV and thinks about inevitability, the point of no return. Was it only tragedy at the bitter end, a strange caricature of Desdemona realizing Othello no longer loved her and smothering herself with her own pillow? Had they been damned from the start, Hamlet called in from L.A. and forced back into a parody of family? Or --God, it isn't a play, it's some mindfucking director rearranging the scenes and prodding the action and ruining lives. Geoffrey knows that story.
He wants to tell Billy. He wants to get off the couch and bring the cassette with him, go to Billy's rehearsal space, push his way through the smokescreen and unplug Billy's amp and say, I know this, I know it. You and fucking Ellen, God.
If he tells Billy, he suspects Billy will punch him. Honesty begetting honesty.
It's possible Billy will just look at him, a long slow measured look, flick ash onto Geoffrey's boots, and not care. That's Geoffrey's other guess, and the possibility is strangely abhorrent. His nascent director wants a reaction.
Christ, he should just tell Billy to bunk somewhere else; if he doesn't get a little fucking perspective it'll be Billy blowing out his brain on camera next.
So Geoffrey says nothing.
Billy knows anyway.
Geoffrey's still the only one home when Billy arrives, his hair a little damp despite the chill in the air outside. He stops in the doorway, looking for a moment at Geoffrey sitting on the couch with the Stoppard anthology, and sets his guitar case aside. "So."
"Hi," Geoffrey says, looking up and raising his eyebrows.
"Hi," Billy mimics, high-pitched, petulant, and the déjà-vu Geoffrey feels for once has nothing to do with Ellen and everything to do with Billy's own camera-captured life. Billy fumbles in his jeans for his lighter, curses, and collapses into the armchair. "You fucking watched it."
"Yes," Geoffrey admits.
"I know about you," Billy says, with the deliberate anger of long rehearsal, and something clicks into place in Geoffrey's head. Someone curious about Billy will almost certainly end up watching the documentary, and then ...
Billy thinks Geoffrey's insanity somehow weights things more evenly. Geoffrey knows Billy's train-wreck of an open secret, but Billy knows Geoffrey's too. Geoffrey thinks perhaps he likes that.
"I could try to give you details," Geoffrey says, and is surprised to find that he means it. He's not sure he can, not sure he could force the words out, not without everything catching in his throat and setting off a crying jag at the very least, but he means it. Five hundred eyewitnesses aren't equal to one good camera lens, and it isn't fair, the way the editing claims to know Billy inside-out.
"That's very fucking sweet of you," Billy snaps. His hands are shaking; he grips white-knuckled at the knees of his jeans. "No; ask. Go on, ask it, whatever it is. Everyone's got something. Let's hear your angle."
Geoffrey's breath catches on pain. Billy has the same look on his face that he had when he first introduced himself, bracing for the inevitable, and somehow in that space all the haunted defiance spills out into the open. It's the opposite of a shield. Geoffrey wonders how he can bear it. Geoffrey wonders how in hell the filmmakers managed to get their documentary on the market. Geoffrey wonders if Billy knew how to hide from the camera or if the pain on his face is something that was born after the last split second of the camera rolling.
Briefly he considers asking Billy how that child custody battle turned out, like there's a multiple choice sheet for the hurtful things he's allowed to ask and he wants to choose the least damaging option. Then the other options present themselves too, in a neat row, pre-scripted: Is it true, what John said to Mary? I'm glad you got away. Were you going to tell him you were going? How dare you leave Joe like that. Have you seen it? Have you seen Joe die? How have you managed to keep from killing Bruce for telling? The last question almost fights its way out, Geoffrey's own bias clawing at his throat, but it's inadequate, all of it is so completely inadequate, the empty accusations and offerings.
"Two years ago," he says, the perfect parallel falling like lead between them, "I was in love with an actress. Ellen Fanshaw. Ellen. I wanted ... She was perfect. I would have done anything to be with her." He doesn't think he can say it, but he does, the words coming smooth, easy, emotion at perfect pitch, and he says them to Billy, to Billy, each word a more precise accusation than any of the tired words he's sure Billy's heard a thousand times before. Billy's gone very still. He's staring back at Geoffrey, neither of them looking away, but it isn't a pissing match, no hollow contest. Geoffrey's terrified. "And I don't know. I don't know if she didn't love me. I don't know if she didn't love me enough. I asked her to marry me, and. The next night, she slept with Oliver. Our director." Geoffrey laughs, involuntary mirthless frightened, a sound halfway to tears. Billy's riveted. "He was my best friend. I don't know ... He was gay, he always said he was gay, and fuck, maybe it was -- was substitution, maybe he knew he'd lose us, I don't know. It wasn't about the play. It was just ... I couldn't. I didn't know where the fuck to go."
He runs out of words, abruptly. Doesn't know where the fuck to go.
"I heard you tried to kill a swan," Billy says. His voice is absolutely entirely flat.
"Better than killing yourself," Geoffrey says, and the terror ratchets up into horrified embarrassment.
To his shock, Billy barks out a laugh. "Yeah," he says. "Fuck. Fuck," and runs a shaking hand over his face. "Fuck, Geoffrey, okay. So who are you in this beautiful metaphor? Are you me or ..."
"It's not a metaphor, it's my goddamn life," Geoffrey says, and suddenly he's laughing too, because God, God, how did this happen? He leans forward, laughing in breathless gasps, more than half sobbing now, and he hears that Billy's joined him, two overgrown boys sitting in a perfectly respectable house having hysterics. Geoffrey's knee touches Billy's where they've both slumped out enough to get their legs in the way of everything, and it doesn't calm Geoffrey down but the warmth off Billy's body is soothing, something wonderful, a point of connection.
Eventually they calm down. "Oh God," Geoffrey says, wiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. "Fuck. I needed that."
"Yeah, good for you," Billy says, and he almost manages to hit angry but when Geoffrey looks at him, his face is shockingly free of tension. Just tired. "You've already heard my confession. With soundtrack."
"I have not," Geoffrey says, and he does hit indignant. "You know what's there? Some good interviews, a breakdown, and a hell of a lot of editing. I can do that for free, greatest hits of Geoffrey Tennant. Come on, Billy."
"Fucker," Billy tells him, not even trying for angry this time. He's not looking at Geoffrey now, though, and after a moment he pulls himself to his feet. "I'm glad to be your fucking therapist, but if we're skipping the part where you're a hypocritical jackass out to judge me, which, thank you for not doing that, I think I'm ordering in again and going to bed."
Geoffrey holds up his hands and leans back in the armchair, giving Billy plenty of room. "Fine, go right ahead."
That night, Geoffrey dreams that he wakes up to see Joe Dick standing at the foot of his bed. That's how he knows it's a dream -- all right, the fact that it's Joe Dick standing at the foot of his bed is a good clue, but it's also pitch dark and he can see Joe standing there, clear blue eyes and backwards baseball cap and a shapeless dark coat that's quite a bit like the one Geoffrey likes to wear.
Since it's a dream, Geoffrey just sits up in bed, sleepily, and says, "He's down the hall."
Joe spits at the carpet. Geoffrey can't figure out if it's contempt or just a weird automatic habit, and supposes it doesn't really matter. "I know that," Joe says. "Fuckhead. I wanted to see you."
"Okay," Geoffrey agrees. "Hi."
Joe gives him a long thoughtful look. Geoffrey slumps back down onto his pillow and wonders, in a disconnected 2AM way, whether there's a hole through Joe's head. The angle's such that he can't tell. He supposes that doesn't really matter either. "They're not fucking writing," Joe says finally. "Look up the tour schedule."
Geoffrey blinks and yawns. He's sure that when he wakes up the conversation isn't going to make much sense, but he tells Joe, reasonably, "I think you gave up the right to make him choose you when you put that gun to your head."
To his surprise, Joe actually takes off the baseball cap and ruffles his ridiculous Mohawk, looking mildly abashed. "Fuck, don't blame me," he says. "Stupid fucker doesn't know how to let go."
"You don't want him to," Geoffrey says dryly.
Joe looks up and gives him a grin, this totally sweet shit-eating grin. "Two-way street, baby."
"Mm," Geoffrey agrees. A small niggling part of his mind is nervous about the coherent thread they're following, about the way Joe hasn't turned into Ellen or Oliver yet, about how Geoffrey's still comfortably in bed instead of in a dress onstage playing Ophelia backwards. The rest of him is sleepy and fascinated, and likes that there's a coherent thread. "Was John telling the truth?" Maybe it's easier to ask questions to a ghost.
"No," Joe says, flat, loud enough to give Geoffrey the little jolt of adrenaline that usually signals nightmare. Again, no Oliver, no Ellen, no running or screaming or drowning. Just Geoffrey in bed with a bright-as-day dead punk rocker standing in his bedroom, radiating anger. "He didn't -- Fuck. I don't have to explain it to you. Just check the fucking schedule." He turns, jamming his hands into his coat pockets, and storms off through the wall.
Geoffrey sinks back down in bed, squeezing his eyes closed. Quiet.
He doesn't fall back -- doesn't -- his dream doesn't change -- it doesn't change for a while. And finally it does.
In the morning Billy looks as wrung-out as Geoffrey feels. Cheryl notices, and anxiously gives both of them extra coffee before going off to scout out interest in a horrendously low-budget theatre troupe. (She takes their final case of beer with her, on Geoffrey quiet suggestion from the previous evening. If Billy notices, he doesn't say.) They're left alone in the house.
Geoffrey picks at the remains of his toast. "Jenifur's not done touring yet," he says.
Billy slumps, like his strings have been cut. "Jesus fuck," he says, muffled, into his arms. He looks up enough to direct a glare at Geoffrey. "Yeah. Yeah, okay, they're not." He lifts his head enough to deliver the rest with conviction. "But I'm not out, I am not out, I just need a little fucking break."
Geoffrey just nods and passes him the coffee pot. Billy drinks the coffee in silence.
"Shit, Geoffrey," he says finally, addressing the words to his mug. It's another kitschy one from the festival, but at least it's not misquoting Polonius as wisdom. I COULD BE BOUNDED IN A NUTSHELL AND COUNT MYSELF A KING OF INFINITE SPACE, it says, which as usual is missing the punch line and therefore the point, but Geoffrey can tolerate it, even if sometimes it gets what a piece of work is a man stuck in his head. Billy wraps his long musician's fingers around the words. "You and John," he says. "The crazies have all the goddamn answers."
"Maybe," Geoffrey says. "I doubt it."
Billy's head snaps up. He stares at Geoffrey for a long moment, but this time Geoffrey doesn't feel even a little afraid of the scrutiny. "The fight was about the fucking coke," he says. "And I don't know why they didn't cut that out of the fucking film."
Geoffrey reaches out and fiddles with his napkin. Something to do with his hands. "Because the people like a good villain," he says. "With good motivation. And the people want characters. The man behind the camera isn't a character, and wanting a reaction -- that's the director's motivation. Christ, Billy, it doesn't matter that it's a documentary. It's a story, and in a story you're not allowed to be a fucked-up human like the rest of us."
"Maybe," is all Billy says.
They clean up breakfast together. They keep running into each other, entirely on purpose, in each other's space, warmth, connection, even if the connection is an elbow in the ribs, both of them grinning at each other. Afterwards they head out onto the front porch, lean on the railing, watching the intermittent passing cars. Billy smokes a solitary fag, unhurried and contemplative.
"If it's a story," Billy says, "this is the part where we admit we love them anyway. That it's all okay, and --" he pauses, takes a drag, blows out a steady stream of smoke in demonstration, "-- we're okay now to let it go."
Geoffrey thinks about loving Ellen. Then Geoffrey thinks about loving Oliver. He huffs out a laugh.
"Not a fucking chance," he says, and leans hard on Billy, who leans back, warmth, connection, okay.