Chapter 1: Of Pie and Petulence
“Why aww we eatig' thish?” Shawn asked around a mouthful of sickly sweet gooeyness.
Less encumbered by taking delicate, petite bites, Gus wiped unblemished lips with the napkin tucked in his collar. “Cause your dad cooked it.”
Stuffing another bite in his cheeks while still chewing the first, Shawn shook his head while carelessly waving around a crust spackled fork. “No... no thah ishin't ih't.”
Dodging spit crumbs, Gus moved exactly one foot left to escape the spattering commentary. Still working his tongue around his latest sampling of the pastry, he fought to nail down the specific components. Not often his prized olfactory senses were put that much to the test to identify an odor, he found himself flummoxed by this particular aroma.
It was pure curiosity that got that third bite past his lips. Henry might be a culinary genius with deceased mammals but his pie baking skills were undernourished. Not that it was stopping his son from devouring the large slice set before him no matter how many faces Shawn made as he forced down the painfully sweet dessert.
“Guhh...” Teeth mashing through yet another enormous bite, Shawn looked a step away from upchucking across the table. Gus moved an additional five inches just to be safe while Shawn tilted his body to stare out the back door.
“Daaaaaad! Whah ish thish!?” Why he couldn't have swallowed first...
Giving up on analysis in exchange for keeping his guts intact, Gus slid his plate away and hugged his stomach. Meanwhile, Mr. Spencer returned inside after pitching the garbage to the curb. Gus realized, then, that the older man had made no move to grab a slice of dessert for himself. Shawn, of course, noticed as well and suspicion dropped the fork from his fingers where the taste of overcooked death had failed to do so.
“Okay, what are you pulling, old man?” The accusation only brought an innocent glance before guilt turned the gaze towards the refrigerator.
“What are you talking about, Shawn? Simple dinner invite. You don't like the food, then next time you can cook. If you can get everything prepared before the new year.”
The subtle jab at his Easy Bake Oven wasn't sitting well with Shawn given the sour crimp to his somewhat greenish features. But rather that leap to an argument, he flicked his attention towards the decimated pie before returning a look back towards his father that involved a slightly tilted head and a squint of eyes. He just couldn't help the “clue face” no matter how often Gus teased him about it.
“This is a test, right? Oh my God!” He shouted, dropping his newly reclaimed fork again to shove to his feet. Gus watched with interest as Shawn got in front of his father, in his face. “We're just guinea hens to some sick, twisted game! Did you poison us? Is this where you offer the antidote in exchange for sanding the floors? Or maybe you're after something else...” His expression firmed. “You can't have Gus's soul.”
Henry waved his arms at him – pushing Shawn out of his personal space as he moved past him towards the sink. “Shawn, the last thing I'd want is Gus's soul.”
Snapping his lips in indignation, Gus stood, then, too. Henry barely glanced back as he flipped the water on to wash his hands. “No offense, Gus.”
No offense? His soul had just been maligned! And once more he'd been dragged to the center of a Spencer spat. Not only that, but whatever ill deed Henry was practicing with his mystery pie, he'd roped Gus into it as well. Rather, Shawn had done the roping with his insistence on dinner with his father just to avoid eating alone with the old man. So much for a quiet night with leftover carne asada and Myth Busters on DVR.
Shawn trailed after his father after hooking a chunk of crust from the pie pan and cramming it in his mouth – coughing a spray of partly chewed bits seconds later. While the battle heated up again Gus chose to save his buddy's gut from further ruin by grabbing the remainder of the pie and heading for the door. He knew Henry had a garbage can out by the garage and with Shawn flying on munchy autopilot he didn't want to risk tossing it within reach of his friend's self destructive appetite.
Of course, where Shawn's belly would someday doom him to explosive gastritis, it was Gus's nose that would be his own undoing. Never one to leave a mysterious scent unexplored and finally away from Shawn's distractive chatter, he lifted the pie to his face and inhaled. Hint of chocolate notes and... onion? He sniffed more deeply, catching the sharp whiff of grass clippings from the lawn and the sour rot from the nearby garbage can. The heady sweet/savory pie odor was barely familiar – something he might have encountered maybe once before...
Flash back on the smell in the kitchen when he and Shawn had first arrived. The lingering stink of boat cleaner and dirty laundry. A memory of that same smell, only stronger, when he'd stumbled after his karate chopping friend through an asian market. Not a case he liked to revisit at the best of times, the swelling in his lip from being kicked in the face had taken two weeks to subside. But within the chilling reflection of homicidal Triads and kidnapping lovers, he finally hit upon the identity of that elusive stench.
Pie still in hand, he slapped back into the house just as Shawn was misquoting Magna Carta.
“You baked us a pie with durian?” Gus lifted the offensive dessert towards the two men, his reveal stopping the fight cold as they turned his way. Shawn wrinkled his forehead.
“Since when are John Taylor and Nick Rhodes pastry chefs to do your evil bidding?”
“Durian, Shawn, not Duran Duran. It's a kind of asian fruit that...”
“I wanted to try something different, okay? Sorry it didn't pan out but I was trying to expand your horizons a little.” Snatching the pie from Gus, Henry topped it with foil before shoving it in the fridge.
Shawn snorted. “Excuse me, but I don't need my horizons expanded. Especially not with stinky fruit pie!” Reaching past his father, he snatched the pie from the fridge once more and peeled back the foil. Moth to flame, he fingered out a chunk and stared at it as though he could spot the offending flavor buried in the mushy core. Henry grabbed the pie back as Shawn stuck his fingers in his mouth to suck at the morsel – his face collapsing in disgust.
Gus shook his head. “You're an idiot.”
Ignoring both his father and best friend, Shawn snatched something from the fridge door – sending the magnet holding it there flying. Not speaking, he held the fold creased paper, a flyer of some kind, under his father's nose with a smug and vindicated lift of his eyebrows.
Henry rolled his eyes. “What's your point, Shawn?”
“A contest? Really? Dude, I was right! This is a test! You're using me and Gus for some twisted experiment!”
“I told you, Shawn, I'm not your dude. And in spite of your complaints, you didn't stop eating, did you.”
Gus would have agreed with Henry except he'd seen Shawn put away a whole plate of brain meltingly hot chicken and rice, tears and sweat running down his face and whimpering the entire time. One of a number of compulsions his friend seemed to have no control over. It was a little sad actually.
“So you're admitting that you're a mad scientist and you're trying to turn Gus and me into super powered mutants?” He coughed into his fist as his voice strangled – hacking until his father thumped him on the back.
“That's exactly it. Appears you're feeling the effects already. Gus, any tingling in your fingers? Has your vision gone blurry yet?” A sarcastic Mr. Spencer was rarely a pretty sight. Not that Gus ever considered Mr. Spencer a pretty sight regardless of his mood.
“Just a little Duran Duran stuck in my throat.” Shawn coughed again and then paused, frowning. “That came out wrong.”
And the night was officially over. “Look, I have a meeting tomorrow at seven in the morning. I'm going to head out. Goodnight Mr. Spencer. It was a wonderful meal.”
“Wait, Gus...!” Of course Shawn would pitch a fit. Though he had his own transportation, it wasn't raining, and Henry wasn't bending his arm to remain behind, the guy still succumbed to abandonment issues if the two of them didn't leave together.
“See you tomorrow, Shawn.”
But nothing – the stink of that pie and the matching flavor still clung to Gus's palette and he craved a hot shower and the medicinal scald of peppermint Scope to set things right. The road was calling and his keys were already in hand as he slipped out the door, leaving behind two generations of Spencers in his wake.
Chapter 2: Of Dirty Thoughts and Feeling Hot
“He totally ditched us!”
“I believe he only ditched you, kid.”
Shawn spent a few more seconds mooning at the door while his father scooped dark grounds into the filter before hitting the switch to start a pot of brew. In moments, the bubble and pop began to generate the bitter sweet aroma of percolating coffee. Accepting, finally, that Gus wasn't going to return with an apology and a gift basket of mixed fruits, Shawn sighed and slumped his way to the table. Being trapped with his father, alone, always gave him a headache and he rubbed at he beginnings of pain pricks starting behind his eyes.
Thanking the invention of the minute cup, Shawn took the mug set before him and gulped a steamy mouthful before wincing at the burn sizzling over his tongue. Attempting conservative, he'd seen it in practice after all, he blew on the next sip before lapping at the dark liquid.
“Since when do you enter pie baking contests?”
Stirring cream into his own cup, his father sat down across from him before taking a sip that didn't scald the top layer of skin from his taste buds. “Since the prize is five grand.”
Shawn tipped his head. Fair enough. He rubbed his eyes before dropping his head to the tabletop. He should have followed Gus out the door rather than linger behind to get the full benefit of his pout. The headache was just getting worse and he felt the pie induced tickle returning to his throat too. His dad really was trying to poison him – he was sure of it now. This was retribution for Shawn gluing all the drawers shut on his desk last week.
“You couldn't go for something traditional like coconut cream or marionberry?” His voice muffled against the table and created a warm haze around his face.
“Kid, everybody entering this thing is going to be baking cherry and blueberry pies. I need something that will stand out.”
Shawn snorted. “Well trust me, it stands out. It stands out like a hooker in church.” The snort did nothing for the pain that had moved to rest behind his eyes and he spared one hand to rub at his temples.
His tongue traveled across his teeth, loosening small remnants of pie filling and crust along the way. After dinner mint it wasn't but waste not want not and in spite of the flavor oh so bizarre it was kinda growing on him. Maybe if he jazzed it up with Cool Whip or some rocky road ice cream. A lot of rocky road ice cream. And some fresh fruit. Of course, dad owed them a cut if he won since he'd made them unwitting participants in his little Pepsi challenge. Granted, that suggested there was more than one flavor to sample. Never mind, the point was, Gus didn't deserve a share of the cut after all considering he'd only taken, like, two bites. And plus he'd been Donny Ditcher.
His head wobbled when he lifted it again and he propped a hand against his forehead to prevent it crashing down. So maybe Gus had a point about the all nighter John Cusack movie marathon. Even though he'd actually kept his promise to exclude the Journey of Natty Gann to avoid the waterfall of Gus tears. Well and he always hated it when the wolf ditched everybody to go live the high life with its backwoods brethren. But he certainly didn't cry. He didn't even mist up. Not even a little.
And didn't dad ask him something a few minutes ago? Oh yeah. Now he remembered. “Huh?”
The eye roll was so undeserved. “I asked if you were okay.”
He sniffed. Coughed. And grimaced at the icky contamination usurping his taste buds. “I feel great. Spectacular. Slightly nauseous from Death by Duran Duran pie but otherwise peachy as a well ripened halogen tomato.”
“I think you mean harlequin tomato. And you sure as hell don't look fine unless you've started wearing rouge.” Grabby fingers pushed against his cheek before he could dodge – the chilly digits moving up to the smooth skin above his eyebrows. Shawn batted at them before sinking back to his arms.
“I don't have a fever I feel fine I'm going home.” He was quite proud to manage three lies in under two seconds. Now dad would insist he stay and offer up bowls of homemade chicken noodle soup and fluffy heated blankets and Shawn would wobble weakly as he stood, protesting the overprotectiveness while he allowed himself to be led to the couch for a night of poppa pampering.
“You're a little warm but I highly doubt you're dying. I wish you'd told me you were sick before you started touching everything.” The choking cloud of Lysol wrapped around his shoulders in a chilly mist as his father began wiping down all the surfaces in the kitchen. “Do me a favor, kid, and try not to cough on anything else on your way out. I'd rather not serve the judges Rhinovirus cream pie.”
Shawn twisted his lip in disgust. “Gross visual there dad. Thank you for that.” Literally, figuratively, and cruelly ignored, he made sure to cough wetly and heavily on everything within hacking reach on his way out. The heavy sigh behind him wasn't as satisfying as an angry explosion of cussing but irregardless, the old man should have known better. How long had the man been his father? No excuses unless he'd finally slipped into senility. Which, given that pie...
The journey back to his apartment was a haze of buzzy numb autopilot. It was still warm enough out that he didn't miss his jacket as he bypassed the freeway for the less crowded ocean view drive.
No sign of Juliet's car when he parked but he vaguely remembered her saying something about reports or... something. Eh, he'd call her after his shower and pester her until she came home. Maybe she'd even tell him what she was working on. Maybe he'd have an itty bitty psychic vision to help her out. Maybe she'd be so grateful she'd want to pay him back...
The shower was everything he could have hoped it would be. Steamy, hot, wet. All those other adjectives that described steamy, hot, and wet. He stayed under the spray until it began to turn misty, cold, and... wet. He was also glad to have invested in the super large, super fluffy bath towels as he wrapped one twice around his body after stepping from the cubicle. The one he wrapped around his hair was more of a challenge – tipping back and forth in a massive beehive of white terry as he slapped damp toes towards the bedroom.
Employing the hair dryer for maximum dryness, certainly not because the soft warm airflow felt really nice as it traveled over his chilled limbs, Shawn dressed in his sweats and a T shirt before bothering to look for his phone.
After finding it wedged down between the bed mattress and frame, he dialed Jules while crawling into the curled nest of blankets. Early for him to go to bed, he decided he could live with that in favor of continuing the comfort theme for the evening. Besides he was damn tired and his bed was so so bouncy.
After the third ring and before he ended the call, Shawn discovered his “comfort theme” would be both one-sided and completely unfulfilling. Which, a year ago, would have been the norm. He'd have whined to both Gus and his father, sure, something he fully intended to cash in on in any event – deserters. However, that was before he'd welcomed... okay, beseeched, pleaded, cajoled, begged like a lovestruck third grader to his hot new teacher to just notice him for God's sake and the shiny red apple he'd placed on her desk! Juliet had drawn out her deliberations over his extended wooing, both of them taking breaks from the courting game to catch some sideline action, the game further delayed by that unfortunate halftime incident involving a dangling chair and a giant-ass countdown timer... and the fact that Shawn had been seeing someone else at the time... Whatever, the point was, he liked it when Juliet was in his bed every morning. He liked it when he fell asleep with her arm draped over his waist. He really liked it when she suggested they could be a little late to work when the alarm went off. Okay, so he was the one that usually... always... suggested that but the point, again, was that... he wanted Jules to make it better and she was stiffing him!
And his whole thought process on the matter had contained more innuendo and double... possibly triple entendres than he had the strength to dwell over with a tired and slightly dirty smirk.
Well he knew of at least one other person who'd feel sorry for him and kiss his boo-boo! Where was his phone? There, under the pillow. Dude, it had been out of his hands for like, two seconds... whatever.
Nice, picking up after the first ring...
“Goose! I wasn't expecting you...”
Wow, was that a bag of manure that had just been dumped over his head?
“Oh, honey, I didn't mean it like that! I love hearing from you! I was just waiting for a call from someone and it's kind of important...”
“Oh. Well this... isn't. Anyway I... I'll just call you back another time.”
“Ok, sweetie. Say hello to Juliet for me, okay?”
“Bye, Mom. I lo...” The call disconnected. Shawn coughed into his fist and dropped the phone to the quilt. Then he grabbed it again and set it on the table beside the bed.
And now he was thirsty.
Why did the kitchen have to be so far away? Arms and legs splayed on his mattress, Shawn wriggled as the comforter knotted under the small of his back. So maybe Jules had a point about making the bed. He was too hot to move. And not in the “I'm too sexy for this shirt” sorta way either. Okay, possibly he was both though the sweat currently deactivating his hair gel might also be crimping the sexy factor a tad. How was it that women swooned over a perspiration bespeckled, half naked Daniel Craig but the minute any non Grecian god, him, got a little spotty in the pits it was all nose wrinkles and “ew, Shawn, you need a shower”?
Oh, but a shower would feel so good... A cold shower. A freezing shower where he could see his breath.
Maybe it was time to try Jules again. Although if he pestered her too much she'd get pissed and he'd be sleeping alone for more than just one night. Now who could he piss off as much as he wanted and it wouldn't injure their relationship one bit? In fact, it would only help their relationship?
Thumbs scrolled and dialed.
“Spencer, what the... dear God, you sound like you swallowed a porcupine.”
“Not this time, but I've been known to swallow swords as part of my community outreach.”
“How about you swallow a...” The rest of the comment was lost in the sound of a muffled smack. Ah, Lassie, sitting too close to Jules and her being all protective too. Clearly this phone call was Shawn's best idea so far that evening.
“What do you want, Spencer?”
Oh the can of gummi worms that had just been opened with that inquiry! What would anyone want in this situation? Bored passing of time? Certainly – though phone sex would have to wait till Jules was feeling chatty again. Although...
“What are you wearing, detective?”
He was pretty sure that was gagging on the other end, and then the sound of muffled shuffling.
“Shawn, leave Carlton alone.”
Shawn grinned. “Jules!”
“Seriously, Shawn, what do you need?”
He pushed up to the headboard and licked his lips before raising an eyebrow.
“What are you wearing, detective?”
The snort was a somewhat positive response. Juliet's voice was sultry when she replied.
“A gray, poly cotton blend pantsuit with a white silk blouse, buttoned up to the neck.”
Shawn settled against his pillow pile. “Ooo... naughty! Well I'm currently sporting a T shirt with a small tear on the hem and a pair of citron blue boxers that are sculpted to my masculine form.”
“You realize that citron is a shade of green?”
“Stay with the fantasy, Jules.”
“Right, sorry...” He could hear tapping as she continued working on her report. She was humoring him, knowing he'd just keep pestering if she tried to blow him off for the second time.
And there went his mind to dirty places again.
Granted, their conversation sorta made that okay, though...
He'd meant to move them on to undergarments. Her undergarments specifically while really hoping the word “commando” would crop up in the conversation, but a sudden attack of coughing got in the way.
He whooped out the last grating hack, cleared his throat, and manned up.
“I feel icky.” He pouted even though she couldn't see him. It helped.
“Aw... how about a scalp massage whenever I can get away?” He didn't expect her to sound amused, though her offer made up for what could have been perceived as uncaring. But Jules was never... rarely... maybe only sometimes uncaring. But only if she was super busier than she was at the moment. Which was busy enough by half since it was keeping her from his overheated side.
“Ummmph... that would be awesome.” And he wanted it right now cause just the suggestion made him feel all melty and tingly.
They managed another three minutes of gumdrops and Sweet Tarts before the Grinch stole all their candy and reminded Jules that she was on the city's payroll. That left exactly nobody to talk to.
Well, not nobody. He had lots of people saved to his phone. For example, he could always call Gina Raypack. She would probably listen if he promised to have her babies.
His pillow felt clammy under his head. It sucked. It sucked a lot and he wrestled it from beneath him and pitched it to the foot of the bed before grabbing the Jules scented one instead.
The phone calls, even the ones under thirty seconds, had been the ass save he'd needed them to be. But the moment he'd had the conversation cut out from under him he'd been dropped right back in the Gobi desert of his own body. He should have grabbed a bottle of water before rolling into bed but that would have required planning ahead.
He hated planning ahead.
Chapter 3: Of Being Alone and Flightless Birds
He was dying. Either that or this was the first stage of gaining an amazing super power. He'd been right all along! Dad was Dr. X and that Duran Duran pie was about to mutate him into some kind of being made completely of fire! And while an awesome power at barbecues and beach parties it had its drawbacks as well. Like wearing clothes and eating ice cream. And while he'd gladly give up clothing if it would bring coolness to his body he wasn't willing to sacrifice cold creamy goodness.
He wondered if Jules would bring him ice cream. Maybe a fudge bar or possibly an orange push up pop. And a drumstick. He'd eat the pointy end first and suck all the ice cream through the bottom.
Coughing as he rolled to his side, Shawn rubbed at the headache beating through his temples. Fully committed to being fatally sick, he considered which family member or friend to call to give his last rites.
Gus would probably insist he pay the last month's rent on the office. Dad would get in a final lecture about the shame he was bringing to the Spencer name for being taken out by a virus. Jules would mourn his dying corpse. Was that a contradiction? Anyway, she'd also insist on a full investigation as well as a burial complete with twenty one gun salute. They'd give her a flag too, he was sure. And in a moment of total devastation, she'd fling herself on his coffin and scream his name to the rain filled skies. Then she'd confess that she'd loved him from the moment they'd met and that she regretted all those wasted years dating saggy boobied old men and creepily dark eyelashed rich men and tall men with Dumbo fetishes in witness protection.
Lassie would speak at the funeral; admitting that he considered Shawn to be like a brother. A younger, far handsomer brother with boatloads of charisma and an envious hairline. Buzz would name his first child Shawn. Gus would change his name to Shawn. Karen would have the department renamed the Shawn Spencer Memorial Station.
Dad would become a hermit and go off to live under the Fifth Street bridge and eat sandwiches from the trash behind Nina's Cafe'.
He grinned. That would be so awesome.
Coughs ripped through him again. The Jules pillow felt clammy now too. His sheets felt like they'd come from the washer and skipped the dryer. And it seemed like the temperature was dropping fast. The idea of a cold shower didn't seem so exciting anymore.
Chills hit home within the next fifteen minutes. Wrapping all the bedding he could get his hands on around his shivering body, he curled into a ball and clutched a pillow to his chest. Even with nobody there to rub his shoulders and stroke his forehead he still groaned loudly. Maybe the vocalization of his misery would carry towards some form of merciful ear drum. He'd even accept the old guy across the street that had been refurbishing his vintage van, aka 1985 Toyota Edicion Mark III, for the better part of five years given the drift of beer cans around the cinder blocks propping it up.
He should call Gus. By now he'd be in his fireman pjs and... no, fireman pjs were every other night. Tonight he'd be cozied down in his smiling banana pjs and matching banana slippers. Maybe he'd even be eating a banana. Ooo, or a banana split! The sneaky son of a... no wonder he barely ate any pie!
That's it, Shawn was calling him.
Where was his phone?
He felt along the sides of the mattress and beneath the blankets before finally spotting it cuddled up next to his lamp on the bedside table. When did it end up there? Shivering as his arm escaped the barely warm enough warmth of the covers, he had the phone in hand and contact list open before realizing he didn't remember who he'd planned to call.
Well it didn't matter anyhow cause his throat felt too dry for conversation. Letting the cell drop to the comforter, he pulled the blankets over his head and wadded himself up tight once more.
He was pretty certain this was the point where he was supposed to pass out, only to wake up later with a loving hand on his forehead and a loving voice assuring him that his fever had gone down.
Instead of a good old fade to black, he somehow found his brain stumbling into some sorta waking dream ala Cranberries music video, all dreamy sequences and lots of black and white. Walls seemed to melt past and beneath him, creamy sludge of painted brick and half-assed wallpapering streaming like a thick river, paper trout leaping from the depths to merge back into that pale flow. His head throbbed to a bass beat thudding in the floorboards. He tangled his fingers at his temples and prayed for a raft. He'd have been content, even, with a fat inner tube.
The water was scalding.
It was his own panting and gasping breaths that lifted him from this nauseating euphoria some time later. There were numbers on his clock he could barely make out through blurred blinks but he got the gist that it was after midnight and before 5am.
There was some pain involved with tearing his tongue from the roof of his mouth. He could have gone on record to state that water had been within touching distance just seconds ago – not counting the salt infused variety drizzling from his temples.
His apartment had water. He was in his apartment. Allegedly...
Though he couldn't remember his bed being this damp before.
Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Wasn't that what people said when stuck out on the ocean and clinging to a hunk of driftwood while sharks circled from below? Something about saltwater just making you more thirsty? Or crazy? He could live with crazy if it unglued his lips from his teeth.
Was it bad enough that he should call for an ambulance? Maybe get the CDC involved? He was totally up on procedure now. Naked group shower in an empty parking lot – surely his neighbors wouldn't mind the bonding experience. Of course, dad and Gus would also have to take part and Shawn wasn't eager to catch another eye shriveling glimpse of his father's back hair. Once was enough even partially hidden by Frank Sinatra's swimwear and after that PTSD inducing incident Shawn had sworn off both old folks homes as well as hitting the beach with anyone over forty.
Pulling out the hair wad clogging his inner sink, he let his mind flush back down to the bottom of the drain. The lonely, abandoned drain where even the sewer rats had stopped visiting.
He felt like an orphan. A thirsty, neglected orphan forced to wear shoes with cardboard soles while he begged for pennies from a dirty alley. Begged with one arm cause his other arm had been chewed off by a rabid pack of wild dogs.
God, could the room be any more like a furnace? He kicked the blankets as far away from him as he could before mustarding up the energy, “it's called mustering, Shawn, yeah yeah,” to crawl to the end of the bed where his fan stood, blades motionless.
Clearly he was suffering from a serious strain of infectitus bodious... murderous... if he hadn't turned on the giver of cool breezes this whole time.
So he only misjudged the distance by... well, a lot. The sound of his body nose diving to the very thin carpet sounded similar to a package of thawed steaks breaking through the bottom of a paper bag and hitting the floor of his father's kitchen cause the bagger hadn't double bagged at the grocery store but of course Shawn was the one who got blamed cause he'd chosen to carry it in the house along with six other bags in spite of his father telling him to take them one at a time but Simon and Simon was supposed to be on in three minutes and Shawn was in a hurry...
He let himself groan for a while at the base of the fan while trying to figure out how to untie himself from his limbs. There was no way his elbow could be wrapped beneath his leg that way without alien involvement.
Actually, though, he was kind of comfortable. It was cooler down on the floor. Dryer too away from his sweaty bedding. Other than being twisted up like kangaroo fetus he could lie that way for twenty minutes, easy. Maybe ten minutes.
Okay, his left hip was going numb, time to move.
It was more a series of lurching flops that releasing himself from... himself. One hand slapping over the baseboard gave him enough support to yank his curled form back to his feet. And since he was up...
Sliding his feet through the few piles of discarded garments he'd allowed to gather since Jules had been working late for a few days, he wobbled with his head about fifteen feet above the rest of his body towards the tiny kitchen.
There was an evil degree of cruelty behind the invention of plastic rings designed to cradle the necks of bottled water. Aside from the horror they inflicted upon hapless wildlife there was the added joke that bought into any attempt to free a single bottle from the company of its partners. Twisting didn't cut it. Wrestling the whole six pack from the shelf and hugging it to his chest, Shawn fought with the wicked contraption for a full commercial break before the bottle finally yanked free. Somehow he didn't drop the remaining incarcerated bottles before returning the group to the fridge. Getting the cap off his beverage of choice was another mini war but in this, too, he prevailed.
Oh sweet Christmas...
He guzzled the whole thing in a series of deep swallows, tipping his head way... way back to capture every remaining drop. He wanted another. Now.
Learning from the previous battle, Shawn pawed through the single drawer not devoted to various treasures won from various coin machines at various grocery stores from various states and countries. Needless to say he had a variety. Ah, and there it was. Slightly long in blade, a bit heavy, and now chipped along the once honed edge after utilizing it as a can opener for a container of kosher dill pickles, the knife that had once been part of a set owned by his father would save its new master once again.
Added bonus? He'd just saved the life of penguin. Possibly an emu. Tossing the hacked apart rings of death, he snagged two more bottles and kicked the fridge door shut with his heel.
All his joints hurt but he wasn't ready to lie down again. Something about the bed was screwing with his dreams and it was giving him the grizzled grandaddy of migraines. Slumping into the couch was far more inviting plus it had the bonus prize of television. A cursory flip through the channels before he resorted to DVR. Fifteen minutes into Big Cat Diary and his slump had puddled on one of Juliet's satin throw pillows.
He didn't quite commit to sleeping this time, though his rust thickened eyes could have used the break from glazed staring.
Though he wasn't quite sure he could close them either. Trying to do so only worked for a few seconds before they lit on fire. Unless it was coupled with bon or bird, Shawn was coming to hate fire in general. He held the last half bottle of water against his eyes when they insisted on shutting again. It helped a little. He wished he had a wet towel to hold there instead but was too beat for another trip to the kitchen. He wiped the sweat from his neck and shifted around on the couch to take the pressure off his spine.
The program came to an end so he clicked the next show in the queue. He stopped paying even a meager amount of attention to the set after this – the dreamy dreams taking claim once more. Brighter colors this time – one could label them as trippy if one were his uncle Jack and wearing a fur vest and paisley bellbottoms. “I'm getting some serious jive and it is fly!” He giggled as he pulled a quilt up to his chin, teeth chattering.
He wondered where his uncle was, suddenly. Was he still in the states or had he, by now, flown to a distant shore and found partners he'd be forced to pantomime at in exaggerated gestures to convey his plots? Shawn imagined Jack surrounded by thugs in varying degrees of thugishness; all slightly tipsy on local wine and playing a game of charades with submachine guns.
He should have grabbed some drugs while he was in the kitchen, too. He was pretty sure he had some single serve packets he'd lifted from Gus's sample case. Repeatedly. Arguably they were free. Plus, there was no way Gus didn't sample his own samples. In fact, to be a good salesman, he'd have to! How else could he convince his clients to buy the latest eye cream unless he'd smeared his peepers himself?
Not that eye cream probably did much for fevers. Probably would have been better to snag some Niquel knock-offs. Of course, he hadn't been looking for pupil treatment when he'd snatched them and what Gus didn't know most likely wouldn't get him fired.
Actually, he didn't care if Gus got fired. Gus was still sitting in the timeout closet after ditching his best friend with Henry the Horrible.
He scrubbed at the wet beads collected on his upper lip. Cold, hot, cold, hot back and forth and quilt kicked to the floor along with both empty bottles and he was still thirsty and really wanted someone to play go-fer rather than try to bumble to the kitchen every time he needed some damn water or some damn pills or a damn peanut butter and Nutella sandwich. And a big damn glass of milk.
Actually, Nutella and milk and some ice cream would make a pretty awesome shake...
Ooooh he wanted a shake.
It would probably help with the taste of old flannel wrapped around his tonsils.
The couch squeaked as he wiggled onto his side. Whatever movie he'd been watching had come to its end – the screen displaying the bouncing DVR thingy. It was at least as entertaining as what had been on previously.
He stared at it for at least five, maybe ten minutes.
He was shivering again by the time it occurred to him to look at something else. He decided to look at his feet. He should have put on socks – his toes looked... sorta blue. Oh wait, that was the glow from the television.
He should try calling Jules again. There was no way they'd be keeping her at the station this long unless she was, like, working a serial killer case. Holy crap, was she working a serial killer case?
Where was his phone? Dammit, how did he keep losing it?
Maybe it was in the kitchen...
Slowly spiking fear helped roll him from the couch where he padded towards the counter. While there and while the fear was still on the low end of the spike he proceeded with his earlier sandwich making plans.
Oh, and his phone wasn't in the kitchen.
Munching pb&j and with a fresh bottle of water tucked under his arm, he headed towards the only other location where he'd spent time that evening.
It wasn't on the dresser slash giant bubblegum machine nor was it on the stack of crates next to the bed, ie his bedside table. Jules had said something about a trip to IKEA someday and he'd asked if that was a place the specialized in hand-caught flightless birds. He'd been on a flightless bird kick lately. Anyway, she'd then suggested going alone with the purpose of surprising him with furniture on some later date but he was certain they wouldn't be open this late. Who ever heard of a twenty-four hour furniture store? Which brought him back to his rising fear in time to choke on the last bite of sandwich before a swallow of water forced it past his Shawn's apple.
It was under the covers. Of course it was. Why would it be somewhere like, on his table for instance?
The wild snatch nearly spit it to the floor but with fingers like Jerry Rice, Shawn masterfully grabbed it from the air and thumbed his way to Juliet's name.
“Come on, come on, come on, come on...”
She wasn't answering, wasn't answering, wasn't-
“Jules! Hey... How... how are you doing?”
“I was sleeping. Wait, why are you calling at... three in the morning? Shawn, I have to get up a six! I only got home three hours ago...”
Not a serial killer case. Well, actually it still could be but not one that had left her dead and bricked up inside a wall. Not that he'd been imagining that. Not at all. Besides, that was so nineteen ninety-two. Today's serial killer was more apt to trick it up with clues on Facebook or Twitter. Or use cereal poetry and stop watches...
And now he was using words like “apt”.
“It's three? Wow...”
“Shawn, what do you need?” And then her voice got slightly less testy and he could hear a crabby “mew” as shuffling dislodged Senior Mischief from his perch on her belly. “Are you okay? Did something...”
“I'm fine! Totally awesome!” And much as his fever warped brain was screaming for hugs and comfort he just couldn't bring himself to pester her into caretaking duty. “No wonder I feel so tired – I thought it was after nine! I was going to ask you to breakfast! Ha ha!”
Smooth. Like chunky style Skippy. But sleep deprived Jules was was not as quick to sense his deceptions as caffeinated Jules and while that was leading down an extremely uncomfortable line of thought it at least got him off the hook for waking and worrying his girlfriend. She even agreed to sharing bearclaws with him the next day at her desk.
She slurred her goodnight to him as she hung up and he was careful to place the phone on the table, within reach, before flopping back into his bed.
His head was throbbing. His whole body felt like boiled cabbage and his mouth was starting to dry out again.
More than ever before, he was absolutely and totally and for surely convinced.
He was dying.
There'd better be doves released at his funeral. And maybe a few penguins...
Chapter 4: Of Betrayal, Again, and Reality Television
“I can't believe you made me sit in the back seat.”
“I can't believe you felt the need to breathe against the back of my head the whole time!”
Shawn quirked his lip. “Is it just me or didn't that sound really-”
Not wasting words, Gus slugged him in the gut before proceeding on ahead of him – leaving Shawn to sputter out the remnants of his GI tract on the sparse grass next to the car.
Their feet kicked through gravel as they cut across the driveway towards the low flight of steps leading to the back door. The truck was next to the garage so there was a fifty-fifty chance they wouldn't be locked out. Gus might still get locked out if Shawn could will his shaky legs to sprint ahead of his so-called friend. Yeah, not happening. Whatever remained of his illness from two days ago was still affecting his equilibrium and face planting on the deck wasn't on his to-do for the afternoon.
Being subjected to two days of hellish misery and abandonment hadn't been on his to-do either. Okay, so Jules stopped in a few times and made him soup and brought him a 12 pack of Sprite and rubbed his forehead... but he'd still mostly been abandoned. And Jules couldn't stay there around the clock and there'd been nobody else to take up the slack when he'd started hallucinating hamburgers singing Van Halen on his window sill. Or maybe that was Better Off Dead. He wasn't sure. It was sorta mixed together with all those virgin lime Jell-O shots he'd downed.
Beating him to the door, Gus rapped on the glass while Shawn set aside a few moments to hack next to the railing. He heard the door open and the raspy gravel of his father's voice and from that was able to deduce that his dad was, actually, home.
The “grownups from Peanuts” exchange carried on like a pair of talking oboes while Shawn straightened a tad to finish his trek to the door – pushing past the older grown-up with barely a “hi dad, nice hat” and calling shotgun on the couch. His father made a grumbly sort of blah blah something something before letting Gus come in too – knowing the guy could pick locks after all.
The door made a slightly violent greeting with the frame and then Henry was in the room too – staring down at the two boys rotating their butts for the most comfortable slouching on the thick and cozy blanket covering the couch cushions.
Shawn noticed it wasn't a hat on his dad's head but, instead, a damp towel about the same time he spotted the mound of smudgy and rumpled tissues coating the coffee table, couch arms, and floor. As one, he and Gus yanked their arms to themselves and leaned in towards the center – eyeing the crudified Kleenex on either side.
On cue, Henry rolled his eyes and moved to drop down into the less-comfortable-but-at-least-it-was-closer-to-the-TV recliner. On cue two, he suddenly reared back, snatched for a slightly less cruddy tissue, and sneezed his face into oblivion. Shawn actually jumped as that viral clue clicked everything together for him.
“Unbelievable. Are you sick?”
The look back after his father finished wiping his nose could have chilled polar bears.
“Wait, you're blaming me??” The shocked innocence would have carried better if his voice hadn't cracked just prior to a fit of whooping cough.
Gus was fleet of foot and darted from the war zone with his arm across his face. “You have GOT to be kidding me!” His flight continued on to the kitchen, thapped on the linoleum, and... distinct sound of jingling keys and opening door...
“GUS! Don't you dare you son of a...!” Less steady following dart, Shawn pelted after the cowardly retreat – reaching the door in time to see the small blue car peeling backward in clouding dust.
“I CAN'T BELIVE YOU'RE DITCHING ME AGAIN!” He screamed after the vanishing car.
Abandoned like the three legged dog at the pound.
Deeper in the house, he heard another sharp tailed sneeze followed by a groan.
He rubbed his hand over his face before scrubbing at his hair. No use staring after the retreating vehicle. Or was it retreated vehicle seeing as how it was long gone? If Gus hadn't been such a leaver Shawn could have asked his friend to clarify that distinction.
Kicking the base of the door a few times, he did a slow spin back into the kitchen. He recognized that wet hacking coming from the other room so he made for the fridge. Even before he reached it he spotted the bit of bright color magneted to the freezer door.
A few steps closer and he smiled – tugging the narrow scrap of shiny fabric loose and letting the banana shaped magnet bounce to the floor. Keeping a grip on the wisp of material, he snagged two bottles of water and headed back towards the couch.
“Yo, pops!” The only warning he gave his father before launching one of the bottles like a football across the room.
Those gun drawing reflexes kicked in just in time to save the lamp as Henry dropped his latest tissue and lunged for the liquid missile. “Shawn!” He coughed as the slippery grip caused the bottle to bounce against his chest before he tightened his fingers to keep from dropping it.
Grinning, Shawn raised both hands above his head in the classic touchdown pose. “Woo! Nice! And it's Cankles McDuffer for the win! By the way, congrats on the bookmark.” He let the ribbon trickle into his father's lap as he passed him – the feathery strip proving far more formidable to catch from the air as it fluttered to the floor.
Henry managed to turn his “thank you” into a sour curse as he bent to snag the ribbon from between his feet and drop it on the end table.
Shawn swiped it again to examine the silkscreened object printed just beneath the oversized font announcing 2nd place.
“Is that like... a Frisbee?”
His father cracked the cap on his water and took several swallows. Wiping his lips, he searched around for the remote. “I'm pretty sure it's a pie.”
“You took second for Duran Duran pie? Who got first, the guy with the catfish crumble?”
His father literally growled. Like winter starved grizzly bear growled. “Blueberry.”
They were silent a while after that. Shawn wiped his forehead with the heel of his palm and sank back – resting the cool bottle where his hand had been. He still felt like crap. His fever had gone down last night but obviously it hadn't left completely. He was all sweaty and gross and he smelled like wet lemur.
“What are you doing here, Shawn.”
“Cause Gus ditched us, again, and unless whatever drugs you're taking allow you to operate a motor vehicle, I'm stuck here.”
“Gus ditched you, kid, this time and last time.”
Shawn raised a finger. Not the naughty one though he considered it. “First of all, I can categorically affirm that the ditching was done to us both and two, did you happen to grab any of that first place winning blueberry pie after you were announced as the loser?”
Henry pulled the wet towel off his face for another round of glaring. “First of all,” he parroted back to his son, “second place is still a win.” He ignored the half laugh, half retort that came from that announcement. “And second of all, do you even know what it means to speak of something categorically?”
Eyes searched for Gus before Shawn remembered his buddy was the reason for this argusation. Ignoring what was likely rhetorical anyhow, he snatched for the bottle of Advil on the table. “You mind if I steal some of these? Thanks.” He swallowed three with another gulp of water before tugging a pillow across his lap.
His father tilted his chair back a bit more and closed his eyes. “Thank you for this, by the way.” He said, gesturing towards the mounds of tissue.
Shawn frowned. “I don't remember trashing your house with snot wads. That's all on you for refusing to hire a French maid even though I found a killer deal on sexyservice dot org.”
“I'm talking about making me sick by spreading your germs everywhere.”
“Well that's your fault too.” Shawn scraped out through another fit of coughing. “You and that infected pie. Is that how you were planning to win? Poison the judges so you could barter for a blue ribbon with a vial of antidote?”
“You're slipping, kid. That joke still isn't funny. Besides, I seem to remember you were sick before you came over for dinner the other night – so if you're blaming me for catching the flu I got news for you, bub.”
If his father planned to share his supposed “news” he wasn't making headway in the report so Shawn figured he'd have to settle for the gag reel.
He wished he'd meant a child's laughter but that last batch of violent coughing had triggered something gross and the first floor bathroom was the next stop for his runaway train.
He did his best to block out the following three minutes. He imagined the Snuggle bear, dressed as Columbo, investigating the murder of the Pillsbury Doughboy. Everyone assumed it was the Swedish Chef to carry out this vile deed but what they didn't realize was that Doughboy had been having an affair with Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben had caught them in the act.
So he got ridiculous, even for him, when he was trying to avoid watching himself hork phlem.
God this was so gross.
He gargled several pints of his dad's finest Scope and then spent another few seconds sputtering into the sink as the hot burn of alcohol scalded everything from the lips on in.
His trip beck to the couch detoured through the kitchen for more water, his own personal wet towel, a banana, and a bag of chocolate chips.
Dropping his collection on the coffee table, he covered himself, head to toes, in the oversized quilt his dad had been snuggling before he'd swiped couch, blanket and bottled water stash. Besides, his father wasn't suffering – an extra blanket already across his legs while he sipped water and flipped between River Monsters and Hoarders.
As awesome as the choices in programming he still, amazingly, found himself drifting off as the Advil kicked in and his attention checked out.
He most certainly did not snorkle when a touch against his shoulder ripped him out of dreams of his father stockpiling salmon in the attic. “It was Gus!”
Chunky dad fingers felt up the side of his face – divining his temperature through osmosis.
“Still a little warm.”
Shawn returned the favor by slapping a loose hand against his father's forehead with a soft smack.
“So are you.”
Wriggling and puffing, he pulled his legs to the side and tucked the quilt around him like a cocoon so his dad could drop down on the couch next to him. Sweat was shiny on his father's neck and even that brief touch to the old man's scalp had been enough to singe the prints from Shawn's fingers.
He wanted to say something about impending containment loss and calling NORAD but there was an icky feeling in his chest totally unrelated to the symptoms he was suffering. Instead, he tugged at the fringe of the quilt and watched a beetle work its way across the fireplace mantle.
“I'm sorry I made you sick.”
He was still watching the beetle. It was making some serious time over the various knick knacks impeding its path. Though now it had reached the model sailboat and seemed to be deciding between circling the delicate vessel or climbing the side. The latter would surely end in plank strolling if Captain Barbossa had anything to say about it – little Jack Sparrow was about to meet a deadly plummet towards ash washed brick. And once the kraken shrugged off his ebola, it'd be all over but the stomping.
“Yeah, well, it's not the first time.”
Shawn had already forgotten his part in the conversation. “Whah?”
His dad grunted and patted Shawn's knee. “Kid, I caught every bug you brought home from school – you think this can top explaining to the chief why I had mono? Or how about the time you give me head lice?”
A grin probably wasn't setting the proper “guilty” tone but it couldn't be helped either. He immediately flashed on his father and himself standing outside and scratching wildly at their scalps while mom hosed them down from the porch.
Reaching forward to snatch the banana and chocolate chips from the table, Shawn opened both, sprinkling the chips on the back of his wrist before taking a bite of fruit and sucking the chocolate from his arm, Vegas style. His father watched him like a Trekkie at a Lady Gaga concert.
Shawn held out his wrist. “You want some?”
“I'll stick with water, thanks.”
Yeah, Shawn hadn't felt much like eating either the first few days he was sick.
“I still can't believe you actually won something for that pie. Wait, did you win something? Other than a bookmark I mean? Ooo, did you get cash?”
Digging into his pocket, his dad pulled free an envelope and tossed it into Shawn's lap. Licking the last bit of chocolate from his wrist, he stuck a finger past the flap and slid a pair of tickets from the depths. Two, three day passes to Disneyland sat in his palm.
“You won tickets to Disneyland? Really?”
Henry turned back to the television with a plastered on bored face. “Second place was fifteen hundred. I spent some of it.”
Shawn nodded as he slipped the tickets back and passed them back. “So who you taking? You and Lassie buddy cops now? Pal it up with the surrogate? Maybe hit Mr. Toad's Wild Ride?”
A thick chuckle filled with all sorts of uncoughed things as his dad pushed the tickets back into his hands. “Those are for you. Well, you and Gus. Sort of a thank you.”
Shawn gaped. “Sort of? Wait, you're actually being nice?”
He was about to lose the tickets, he could see that, and quickly pocketed them. “Thanks dad.”
A nod back. After that, they were left with the television and the beetle for entertainment. Shawn went back to watching his shiny black friend begin a clumsy crawl towards the ceiling. This put him in mind of another oiled pal. A very ditchy pal who hadn't exactly earned his share of their cut. A ditchy pal that was going to get abandoned at the Haunted Mansion in the seance room.
Actually, scratch that.
Shawn stuck his hand in his pocket.
He dug deeper.
He found half a Cheeto and three Canadian dimes.
“Dad, I need your phone.”
His father pointed towards the coffee table where the cordless sat partially buried under a banana peel. Shawn snatched and dialed while tossing back another handful of chocolate chips.
She grinned at him through the phone – he could hear it in the chippy way she said hello. “You know, we have an anniversary coming up.” The anniversary of their first shared malt. Okay, she'd only managed a single sip before a call had taken her away from Tastee Freez and to a burglary instead. But they'd used two straws so it had still counted.
This was a memorable boyfriend moment. She'd be telling their great grandkids about this. Hell, she'd be telling random children on the street.
His smile was so wide his cheeks hurt by the time he hung up again and dropped the phone beside him on the couch. Then he remembered who he'd been sitting next to while calling Jules an assortment of extremely suggestive pet names. Crap.
“You didn't hear that.” He turned his head just slightly – trying to see without letting his dad know he was being seen.
His dad was asleep.
Huh. So his dad really hadn't heard that.
Well now what?
The provider of varied entertainments, the TV remote, was clenched tighter than rigor mortis in his father's sleep frozen grip. Not to be outdone, his index finger had come to rest on the channel changer, meaning the stations were flipping rapidly in a bright blur of sound and motion. His hand smacked over his eyes before he could drive heave from the nausea inspiring sight. His other hand slapped to the right until it struck the remote and knocked the deviant finger free. The less than careful groping also woke his father, who jerked and lunged and dropped the remote.
“Shawn...” He was sure the derogatory usage of his name would have been louder and more cursey had his dad been less sick and more vindictive. The coughing fit that followed waking saved his ass – until he was punched in the lungs by the same attack. They hacked in stereo for a while. It was a ridiculous “like father like son” moment.
When it ended, at the same time of course, they both reached for water and gulped in unison. Shawn was so over the Doublemint Twins thing.
He was tired again – his nap hadn't been long enough and reflecting that, he slumped down in the quilt and closed his eyes.
He heard his dad finish off his water and drop the bottle to the floor among the discarded tissues. It rattled in a hollow plastic way. The sound of joints cracking as the remote was retrieved from the floor and then he felt the couch move as his dad shifted – getting comfortable.
The television settled on... really? Shawn cracked one eye at the screen. “You're watching Real Housewives of New Jersey?”
His dad shrugged. “It's the season finale.”
He wanted to sleep. He really wanted to sleep. But...
Dear God help him he couldn't look away. Compromising by keeping one eye shut, he watched the wealthy through bitch slaps, bikini changes, and bawling. It reminded him of the last time he'd gone to the water park with Gus.
Which reminded him of something else.
His father tapped the volume down two bars. “Yeah, kid?”
“I say we swing by Gus's apartment tomorrow and sneeze on him.”
Henry chuckled and patted Shawn on the shoulder.
“It's a deal.”