Saturday, November 04, 2006

Childhood's End - Chapter 4

When she got to the bar, Rowena had to make use of her elbows to navigate the crowd and get to Trish. That, as they say in the movies, wasn't good.

Rowena grabbed a spare apron; Trish shot her a withering glance, but Brandon's daughter couldn't do anything but mouth "Sorry", whip out a towel and start on the dirty glass backlog. It was madness through and through, the Battle of Thermopylae reenacted with shotglasses and soapy water, but after thirty minutes of non-stop crunch time, Rowena finally finished the pile and began to cruise in the much more manageable waters of cleaning glasses as they came in.

"Where were you?" Trish asked while pouring a Touch-Down.
"Got schooled," Rowena answered. "Forgot the time, sorry."
"I like you, sweatheart, really, but if you do that to me again you'll find dirty cutlery sticking out of your spleen."
"Noo!" Rowena cried out in mock terror, cracking a smile. "I need my spleen! It's my bestest friend!"
"I thought I was your bestest friend."
"You and my spleen! We're all one big, happy family."
"Somebody won't get any more vodka."
"I'm just...I'm coming off an adrenaline high. Condition red for three hours does that to you."

Rowena watched in horror as a guy in an alarmingly-bland suit (with "funny" tie, too! - Rowena liked attention to detail) climbed atop one of the tables, raised his bottle of imported Czech beer and shouted "Next round's on me!"

Rowena and Trish just looked at each other. Finally, Trish tossed the nearly-empty bottle of booze in her hands aside and grabbed a new one from beneath the counter.

"Gentlemen - start your engines," she said.

If, by some chance, you happened to be one of the 300 Spartans and got up alive after everything was said and done, would you think it unfair if the Persian Army came back for seconds?


The clock was almost but not quite convinced to finally tick over to 3 AM when Rowena slammed the loft's front door shut behind her. This, she could tell, was what total exhaustion felt like - she'd been fired up all day, and now the crash she should've had a few hours ago finally got past her caffeine and socked her one in the stomach. She actually felt sick, violently sick, in that weird neurochemical state where you could just fall down to the ground and laugh yourself into the next psych ward as the saddest person in the multiverse.

Everything evil and wicked, it seemed, disappeared down the toilet. Once more, Rowena was glad she had short hair.

When she got up from the tiled bathroom floor, she was shivering right through her clothes. With her last reserves of power, she hobbled over to the open window next to her bed and closed it, shutting out the sounds of police sirens in the background. Her neatfreak tendencies went forgotten as she threw her dirty clothes onto a big pile, stepped into the bedroll and snuggled in against all the cold air in the room. There was no more sound around her. No other breaths, no whirring security cameras, no footsteps outside.

She was alone, and this was the kind of blow to her lacking emotional maturity that should've made her cry a bit, but she couldn't even muster that. There was too much in her head, all of it screaming at her to work it out somehow.

Her brain cried out for nepenthe. All it got was the figurative flick of the light switch.


Rowena had overslept. She never overslept.

There are two ways to deal with oversleeping. One can either rush through the morning hygiene and breakfast, desperately hoping to approach relativistic velocities, or one can embrace the lateness and take it slow that day. Rowena went for the latter; one of the advantages of living in a gentrified area was the sheer decadence of a delivery service for fresh bread. Hey, you could find a delivery service for anything in NYC, right? Why even bother leaving the house?

There was knocking at the door. Rowena wasn't surprised at the least to find Mark there, whose immoveable face was now shaded towards unfriendliness.

"Do you ever check your mailbox?" he asked, walking in as if the sight of a pyjama-clad teenage girl opening his doors was the most normal thing in the world.
"I just got up. Also, nobody knows my address."
"Well, I...oh. No. I mean voicemail."
"I haven't even unpacked my cell phone."

Mark gave her that look.

"Do you want a time-out from the training? Just to get your affairs in order."
"No, I'm fine, I just need a few minutes to..."

Her look fell upon the large cardboard boxes that were stacking up in her living room.

"When the hell did that get here?"
"Yesterday, while you were working."
"Is this Ikea? I swear I'll kill you if it's Ikea."
"Actually, it's their lesser known Romanian copycat operation. All the suck, none of the pretentiousness. Oh, and they have a joke in every package, they call it instructions."
"Come again?"

Rowena gesticulated wildly, which was not a smart thing to do for someone wearing a pyjama that was, technically speaking, already showing its age in the size department.

"Fuck!" she shouted, went over to the window, opened it, then screamed it again. Oh, and once more, for good measure.

"That settles that," Mark said, arching his eyebrow in that way that indicated a youthfully excessive fascination with Mr. Spock. "You're getting the time-out. We may have rushed things a bit."
"I'm just totally lost here. Coffee?"
"No thanks. How?"
"I'm drowning in the details."
"Hm. Well, maybe we can do some training."

Rowena gave him a strange look, saying both "God have mercy on me" and "That's what I'm here for" at once. Finally, she just took a sip, kept the hot coffee in her mouth to ensure an even burning of her tongue, then swallowed it in one big gulp.

"Like, what?"
"Organisation. I'm the guy for real-life skills, remember? So today we're going to cover some home decoration."
"I guess I could use someone to help me out here. Is that, uh, is that a forte of yours?"

As if in reply, Mark led his right hand to his crotch and tugged on it. "Yep," he added. "Now all we need is a little Allen key and a lot of luck..."

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