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Like Rome or Pompeii

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All in all, Dignan can't help but think this is a pretty shoddy welcome home party. But it's hard to blame Anthony and Bob. It's not their fault they're not cut out for this type of thing. Planning things is kind of Dignan's forte, after all, and since he wasn't around, they probably just did the best they could.

To be honest, Dignan wasn't expecting much, but he might have expected just a little tiny bit more than hanging out on Futureman's deck drinking beer at 5:30pm, and, "Oh, by the way, we gotta clear out by 7 because that's when my brother's coming home." No signs posted anywhere. No cute girls standing around the pool. No fruity drinks. No food, even. Just Anthony, Dignan, and Bob, parked on lawn chairs staring at the pool and the sky, drinking their beers as the sun goes down.

It's kind of nice, in its own way. Sort of.

Finally Anthony says something. "I'm sorry Grace couldn't come," he says. "She really wanted to."

Dignan takes a drink and says, "It's okay. Kid's probably got homework. That's more important, anyway."

Anthony nods.

"All right," Dignan sighs. "I wasn't gonna tell you guys this until morning, because it seems like the kind of news you'd wanna break over breakfast, start of a new day and all that, but I think right now we could use a little excitement."

"Excitement?" Bob asks, turning his head.

Anthony finishes off his beer and sets it on the cement. "Bob, I think it's about time to show Dignan our surprise."

Dignan doesn't say anything, just hides a smile behind the last sip of beer.

Bob and Anthony disappear inside the house. When they come back it's almost 6:20, and Dignan's hope is fading. These poor guys. They really can't do anything without him around.

"Check us out," Bob says, and Dignan turns around slowly with his eyes closed.

The two of them stand there, grinning like idiots, in matching black-and-white striped t-shirts and their blue jeans. They've smeared something black across their eyes. Dignan is, honestly, a little bit baffled.

"I tried to find some matching pants, but you wouldn't believe how hard it was just to track these shirts down," says Anthony.

"I don't get it," Dignan says. "Did you guys get me a shirt, too? What's that black stuff?"

"Like prisoners," Bob explains. "Like in the movies. We thought you might have a hard time adjusting to life on the outside."

Dignan smiles, slowly. These guys. If they'd wanted to be accurate, they should have gone with orange, and to be frank, the whole idea's a little weird, but it's kind of cute. "You guys," he starts.

"I made you a cake," Bob says, "but we can't eat it out here."

* * *

Dignan is the first to finish his cake. It's not bad, but he figures it would be pretty hard to screw up a cake anyway. "You guys, I don't know what to say."

Anthony and Bob smile at each other.

"This is all so great, and now I feel like I wanna give you something."

"You don't have to do anything," Anthony tells him.

"It's more like I'm giving you an opportunity," Dignan says. He pushes his plate away and looks at them both. "This is what I was talking about before. I met this interesting fellow on the bus back here. He's got a line on this deal that could be a really great thing for us. See, there's this other guy who's got, like, a million stashed in his house because he doesn't trust banks. It's in a safe, but my new friend knows the combination, because it's his dad. He wants me--us--"

"Just stop there," Anthony says. "Just stop right there, Dignan, don't say anything more."

"So you're in?"

Anthony stands up and throws his plate in the garbage, then comes back and takes Bob's plate and Dignan's too. "I am the opposite of in," he says, with his back turned.

"What?"

"I'm not in. You're not in. Bob's not, either. We're all staying far away from this great deal, okay?"

"I don't understand this hostility," Dignan says. "I've brought you this--"

"You were supposed to get over this," Anthony says. "In prison. We all thought you would. After what happened, and then being locked up... we really thought it would fix this. Well, not Grace--that's the real reason she didn't come. She tried to tell me, but I thought, `No...'" He shakes his head. "What an idiot."

Dignan protests, "Anthony, you're not an--"

"I meant you," he says, and closes up the trash bag. He gets out another one and sets it out.

"Well, I think all of this is just a little bit uncalled for, frankly. I was only thinking of you."

"No, you weren't," Anthony says, rubbing at his eyes, transferring the black stuff from his face to his hands. He picks up the bag. "I'm leaving. Bob, I'll toss this bag out in the dumpster so your brother doesn't know we were here."

He walks out.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Dignan challenges, following him out. "That I wasn't thinking of you?"

"You were thinking of yourself, Dignan," he says, resigned. "That's what you do."

"I am *always* looking out for you. I am *always* thinking about you. You think I would have said two words to this crazy guy on the bus if I didn't think this could be a good thing for us--for all of us?"

"I don't know," Anthony says, tossing the bag over the top of the dumpster and continuing toward the street. "I don't care, either. You keep doing this stuff, you're just going to get Bob and me into more trouble. We're out. You do what you want."

"That hurts, man. That really hurts. Where are you going?"

"I'm catching the bus," he says, walking faster.

"Bob will drive you."

"Bob can drive *you*," Anthony says. "I'm catching the bus."

Dignan runs a couple of steps just to catch up and reaches for Anthony's arm. "No one's going to pick you up looking like that."

"Then I'll walk."

Dignan stops. "I missed you."

Anthony pauses, turning his head to look back as Dignan's fingers fall from his arm. "That's not going to work this time. It's not enough." Then he starts walking again, eyes forward.

Dignan hesitates, then: "A lot."

From a distance, Dignan can see Anthony shaking his head. He blinks, and walks back toward Futureman's house.

"All right, don't worry, Bob," he says, returning to the kitchen. "Everything's going to be just fine. Anthony's just a little overwhelmed by the new situation, you know, having me back and everything."

Bob's washing dishes. "Yeah," he says, without turning around.

"I guess it's okay if you don't wanna come in with me on this, either," Dignan says. "Man, I thought you guys would be happy about this. I really don't get it."

Bob shrugs, wiping off the table with a paper towel.

"Hey, man, are you okay?"

Bob turns around, and his voice sounds even weirder than usual. "I think we all thought maybe things would be different when you got back."

Dignan hugs him. "Relax, Bob. Rome wasn't built in a day, you know."

He thinks he remembers it only took one to fall, but he doesn't tell Bob. The poor guy's got enough on his mind.

So Dignan just stays there, with his eyes on the door.

Over his shoulder, Bob watches the clock.