Today’s chapter comes with a pair of stories, one funny, the other, not so much.
Before I wrote this, I told a close friend about this chapter’s opening scene, dealing with the aftermath of Brianna wanting to try anal sex. She got a good laugh out of the idea, and I promised I’d send her the scene when I finished with it. I did, except her dad was also a Facebook friend, and when I saw the same last name, I clicked on him instead of her, and then proceeded to send him the scene in question.
You read it now and it’s pretty tame, but I was mortified. We both got a pretty good laugh out of the mistake.
The not so funny:
The build-up to this scene didn’t actually begin in this novel, but in Band of Fallen Princes. This all eventually got edited out in future drafts, but one of the running jokes in that book’s first edition was that Brianna and Garrett were arguing a lot about post-wedding plans until Brianna told him she wanted to try anal, which salved any objections he might have had about anything to do with the wedding or afterwards. Pretty dumb joke, and I eventually edited it out because this book would never be released, meaning the punchline never came.
Except I made mention of the anal sex joke on Facebook, and it wound up costing me a friendship, one I hold dear. even now. People took joyous sexual experimentation and turned it into something charged, as though I were making personal attacks against humanity. Our philosophical differences on the matter still haven’t been resolved. I love them dearly. I hope they see this and understand the spirit in which it is written. It hurts that this paltry scene is the thing that broke us, but I’m also not going to say I’m sorry for it.
Being a writer and putting down the things you want to write about is always going to cost you something. That’s something they can teach you but you never understand until it happens. Garrett and Brianna’s story, one of sacrifice, of love, of the cost of living a good man’s life, is one I stand by. I’ve said it before and reviewers have said it too – this isn’t the story people wanted in its end, but it’s the story I told. The price I paid along the way hurt, and the irony that the jokes that cost me friendships never even made it to print beyond a first edition stings.
But if you think I’d do anything different about this journey, I don’t know what to tell you. I have always tried to be of a certain character. I believe in love in all its various forms, so long as you’re not hurting someone. This scene wasn’t ever meant to be anything more than a funny joke, but along the way, it became something of a symbol for me, of what I will stand for.
Anyways. Here it is. And the funniest part of all, it’s kind of a shitty chapter anyways.
It was not the fun night either one of them had been hoping for.
When they walked to the restaurant the next morning, Garrett opened the door for Brianna, not thinking about much at all but getting his hands on a breakfast burrito. Instead, she turned her head and snapped, “Don’t think I can muster up the brain cells to hold the door open for myself?”
Fuck, he thought. He held doors open for her often. So did she for him. It was just a general act of kindness, not some chauvinistic bullshit. “Just was ahead of you, hon,” he said carefully.
She brushed past him and headed straight for the bathroom. “Feels like someone shoved an arm up there,” she muttered, making damn sure it was loud enough for him to hear.
The hostess, who’d overheard too, glanced from Garrett to the bathroom, trying not to stare. “Um. Table for two?”
He followed the hostess through the restaurant and sat down, ordering himself a coffee and Brianna an iced tea. The waitress gone, Garrett had just enough time to start looking at the menu when Brianna came walking out. Her gait was a little more ginger this morning, and to an outside observer, she looked as though she might’ve just woken up. She’d spent only a minute trying to brush out her hair and do her makeup that morning before she’d thrown all her things into her overnight bag in a huff, leaving her with a bit of foundation and a wild, wind-blown hairdo. In a move of supreme idiocy, Garrett had commented that he liked it, that she looked beautiful naturally, and had to endure five minutes of an icy tirade as to why she didn’t need to wear makeup if she damn well didn’t want to. That he’d been trying to tell her so seemed to make no difference whatsoever.
As she neared, her already sour expression went even darker. She jabbed a finger at the hard wooden chairs of the table. “Really, Garrett? Really?”
For a moment, he was confused, but when she grabbed their menus and headed for a much more padded booth, it clicked. Oh, this was going to be a day.
She barely glanced up at him when he slid into the booth across from her. For a time, there was nothing but glacial silence from her. Their waitress came and took their orders. Brianna finally glanced up and asked as sweetly as she had been just yesterday, “Does the Big Fling come with latkes?”
“We can swap out the potatoes for it, would that work?”
Brianna thought about it. “Can you just bring me a side of them along with the potatoes?”
The waitress smiled. “Sure thing. How about you?”
“Just a breakfast burrito, I think.”
Brianna’s smile slipped. “That’s it?”
“So I’m gonna eat this huge meal and you’re just going to sit there and pick at a little burrito? Like I’m-”
“A Big Fling too, then,” Garrett said, cutting her off and getting irritated now.
“Oh now you’re just ordering to make me happy? Right, that’s real big of you.”
Garrett looked up at the waitress, hoping for some kind of moral support here, but she was pointedly looking down at her pad. “I… just throw some food on the table for me. The Big Fling. Whatever.”
The waitress scurried off and Garrett leaned forward to whisper, “For fuck’s sakes, Brianna, you’re the one that wanted to try it.”
Picking up a table menu listing their dessert specials, Brianna snapped, “I know.”
Garrett waited, trying not to drum his fingers impatiently on the table. “And? Are we just going to snipe at each other all day?”
Brianna sighed and put back the menu. “No.”
“Look, I told you how I felt and I meant it. Anything you want to do in bed or not is up to you. We won’t ever try it again.”
Brianna glanced down at the table and blushed. “Well, don’t say that.”
“I…” Garrett closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead with his thumb and first two fingers. “What?”
“I mean, there were parts of it I liked.” She shrugged. “I don’t know. Let’s not just rule it out, that’s all.”
Garrett folded his arms on the table very neatly, and sank his head down on them, trying to decide if he was fighting back a shout, a laugh, or a cry for sanity.
“Pain in the ass,” Brianna whispered, and he groaned.
When the waitress came with their food, he was still seated that way while Brianna browsed her phone, a pleased smile lighting up her face.
* * *
Calgary was a feverish dream of places, people, food, culture.
What was left of Brianna’s malleable mood swings departed when she stood in front of the giraffe enclosure. The long-necked beauties lazed around, munching on leaves high in the branches, but one, smaller than the others and lacking their sure footing, plodded towards her, its head lowered, huge eyes glowing even despite the bright morning sun. Its mouth was drawn up and slightly pooched, as if it were lost in a pleasantly dull memory. Brianna didn’t notice as her hand fell away from Garrett’s and she moved closer to the giraffe, slowly, hardly daring to breathe. It lowered its head even further and drew to a stop, dipping a little as if curtsying to Brianna. Brianna curtsied back. The giraffe blinked, the only time since it started towards them, and lifted its head, satisfied with whatever it had come to investigate. It turned and lumbered away, leaving Brianna shaking from the singular rapture of that moment in time.
There was no more anger between them that day.
After the zoo came a vast indoor garden. Twice among its leaves and greenery Garrett thought he saw the child from the day before, but she was gone in a flash each time. It grew easier and easier to dismiss her as a part of his fractured mind, same as his other hallucinations.
Their afternoon was capped off with a visit to the Calgary Tower. Garrett knew all was truly well when they stood on a glass observation deck and Brianna nuzzled into him like they were a pair of old, comfortable socks rolled together.
Still, though, the stop in Irisville started something in his mind, shadows at the corners of his consciousness.
Their second day found them at Calaway Park, Brianna much readier to take on the rigors of hard seating. The amusement park swarmed with guests that day, but the ride lines moved swiftly. Garrett hadn’t been to an amusement park since he was maybe ten, and Brianna had never been to one period, despite having always wanted to. Together they rode the Vortex five times, shouting like children, and the bumper boats twice. On a Ferris-wheel type ride called the Balloon Ascension, they posed for a kissing selfie and wound up necking like it was the first few weeks they were together. Every ride in the park they could fit into, they jumped into together, stopping only for soft pretzels and frozen lemonades.
In the early evening, they finally stumbled out of there, exhausted, hungry, dehydrated, and madly, madly in love with each other. They went shopping that night, browsing several art galleries, crafts and gift shops, and a bookstore. Brianna found a lovely painting of a field of black-eyed Susans that Garrett agreed would make the perfect thank you for Rose and Ed for helping so much with their wedding. They hashed out how to best transport it home, but the gallery owner solved the problem for them by agreeing to ship it. The paperwork took some time, but one of the biggest to-dos in Canada was now firmly taken care of.
They ate dinner close to their hotel, and when it came time to return to the Kensington Riverside Inn, Garrett sobered up with every step. That was the night they’d meet up with Virgil and Tibaldo, if they’d received their message at the condo about Chloe Iver. Sensing his mood darken, Brianna didn’t try to fill the silence, which he appreciated. However, she did keep his fingers entwined with hers, and that was okay too.
There had been many ghosts on the trip – dozens in Lethbridge, a few here and there along the roads, hundreds in Calgary – but Garrett had been ignoring them for the most part. If they found out he could see them, he’d be inundated with requests to get messages to loved ones, to try to send money to a sick relative, to right any number of wrongs they’d done in life. When he’d first started to see ghosts as a teenager, Garrett had tried to deliver three messages to the living from ghosts he and Murphy met. All of them had ended with the living looking for more answers than he could provide. It didn’t take them long to realize the obsessions it would create with the dead would be unhealthy for the living – catastrophically so. One woman, who’d been on the verge of starting a new relationship with a man, had called it off and became fixated on the idea of bringing her late husband back to her. She’d lost her job, her family, and had eventually wound up having a complete nervous breakdown. Never again, Garrett swore to himself, and from that day forward, usually Murphy or his other ghostly allies usually acted as a buffer between him and the ghosts they dealt with.
Virgil and Tibaldo though were old friends – well, perhaps not “old” in the sense of the time they’d worked together, but in the last ten months or so, they’d helped Garrett fight a number of battles. Virgil, a Texan with a droopy mustache and clothes resembling those found at an 80s cowboy-themed strip club, had almost lost his essence trying to help save Brianna once. A holdover from the early 90s hip-hop era with his high, tight fade and designer turtleneck sweaters, Tibaldo oozed cool, easy charm that even Murphy couldn’t pull off in his fancy suits. Where Virgil had been a bounty hunter in life and excelled at tracking criminals in death, Tibaldo was more of a people person, and largely handled the day-to-day business of re-establishing a central waypoint in Rankin Flats for ghosts to converse, drop news, and sometimes take up jobs working for Garrett when they were needed.
The two ghosts were early, talking animatedly in the midst of the shrubbery outside the Kensington Inn. Virgil caught sight of Garrett, gave a nod, and resumed listening to the wildly gesturing Tibaldo.
“-can’t tell me he’s as good as Tiger Woods. You just can’t. You’re comparing a damn middle-aged fat white dude with the greatest sportsman of all time. Period.”
“Michael Phelps says hello,” Virgil grunted.
“Yeah, all right, yeah. But Tiger Woods has done way more for sports than Harry Hamm.”
“I didn’t say all of sports,” Virgil said, folding his arms across and through his chest. “I said for professional wrestling.”
“No, you definitely said-”
Garrett grunted, “Hey, you two assholes want to talk shop? Or are we just gonna play chatty Cathy all night?”
“And a cheerful fuck you to you too!” Tibaldo said, turning as Garrett held up two fingers to indicate to Brianna the ghosts were talking.
Virgil’s mouth puckered. “Really? ‘Oh hey, Virgil, thanks again for finding all those ghosts to protect the wedding.’ ‘Oh gee, Garrett, you’re very welcome.’ Asshole.”
Garrett grinned, feeling more at ease. If there had been a problem back in the Flats, they wouldn’t have been so casual. “It’s good to see you guys.”
“It really is,” Brianna agreed, then amended, “Well… I mean, it’s good for him to see you guys for us. Oh hell, you know what I mean.”
Tibaldo laughed. “If I was alive, Moranis, you’d have a little bit of competition for this one.” It wasn’t the first time Tibaldo had vocalized his intangible liking of Brianna. Garrett was relieved the man wasn’t real – he was sure Ty must’ve racked up a hell of a lot of notches on his headboard.
“Let’s head inside and bullshit,” Garrett said. “Don’t want the locals thinking I’m too crazy.”
With the threat of an emergency run back to Montana alleviated, the tension of the evening seeped out of Brianna, and she flopped on the bed to listen to Garrett’s side of the conversation. He sat beside her, absently rubbing her back as he filled in the ghosts on what Monica and Annalise had told him about Chloe Iver.
“That’s about all we know too,” Virgil said, sitting on a corner table, his legs swinging through the edge of the wood like a child’s. “The cut they found on her, the smile thing, it matches up with the same ones we’ve been finding on drugs all across the city.”
Tibaldo nodded. “Our best guess-” Virgil cleared his throat and Tibaldo shot him a scowl “-Virgil’s best guess, which I happen to agree with, is that you’re not the only one who figured out the math on who actually murdered Maddox Iver. Whoever’s been supplying the Band of Princes must’ve tracked her down.”
“Yeah, but how?” Brianna asked when Garrett repeated all that. “I mean… she was out in the middle of nowhere.”
“That’s a good point,” Tibaldo agreed.
Virgil shrugged. “He followed her. He had someone watching her. Who knows? In any case, we’re not finding much else. We’re trying to track down the supplier, but he’s careful. His middlemen get a call, they go to a place, they pick up the drugs, and they leave a lot of cash. We’ve got some names there for you for the police, but for every one we’re finding, there have to be a hundred more across the city.”
“Are they using the same places twice?” Garrett asked. “Could just stick a man on the drops to watch who comes and goes.”
But Tibaldo was already shaking his head. “Nope. At least, not often enough that we’re seeing a pattern.”
While Garrett wrote, the ghosts gave him a list of dealers. “That’s not much to go on,” Garrett said as he sent the list to Monica, “but you’re doing good work. Keep it up. And seriously, thanks for all the eyes at the wedding, Virgil.”
“We’ll have some bills we need to square up on that end,” the Texan said. “Mostly people I made promises to about cash being sent to relatives. Sorry for not asking first, but I figured you’d be okay with it.”
“Yeah, that’s fine.”
“How’s the city?” Brianna asked, wiggling her shoulders as Garrett worked her upper back. “They haven’t said that yet, right?”
Garrett smiled. “No, they haven’t.”
“The cartel’s in an uproar, It isn’t pretty, but there’s not much we could do even if you were home,” Tibaldo said, tapping his fingers against and through his pants. “There’s no one to follow it all back to. It’s just random violence and aggression.”
Garrett understood. Without a clear indication people were going to commit a crime, there was no way to stop them if they decided to just go for it. Tibaldo’s network of ghostly allies caught what they could, but in a city with the sheer scope of Rankin Flats, whose population was slated to surpass New York’s in less than two decades, their efforts were at best a stopgap. Garrett did what he could, but he had to accept very early on in his career as a vigilante that he was just one guy.
“Legion’s been smart. They moved their power players to Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago,” Virgil added. “They weren’t going to have a repeat of the Finsons.”
“Hasn’t been much noise on their end,” Tibaldo agreed. “But give it a week or two and they’ll be out recruiting the dregs in full force. I guarantee it.”
Garrett relayed all that to Brianna. “Anything else?” he asked.
“Went by the Hammerdown before we headed for the airport,” Tibaldo said. “Place looks like it’s doing fine.”
After hearing that, Brianna thanked them. “I’ll have to give Marnie a call, maybe on the road tomorrow,” she mused. “Couldn’t hurt to check in.”
There was a bit more planning, mostly about their travel plans in case they needed to meet up again, but they all agreed that if there wasn’t a need, the ghosts didn’t have to travel from the Flats. Their business finished, Garrett stood up and walked the ghosts to the door. “Murphy get going to Europe okay?”
Virgil snorted. “Gone like a shot the minute he knew you two were safe in Helena.”
“Good.” A pang of loneliness struck Garrett unexpectedly. Being with Brianna was an amazing journey, but he didn’t feel entirely complete without his best friend there too.
When they were gone, Garrett and Brianna both decided drinks were in order. And there just so happened to be a bar very close by.
A few drinks turned to many drinks in a hurry when word got out that they were on their honeymoon, and when they finally managed to stagger back to their hotel room, Garrett had to lean on Brianna for support.
“I’ve never seen you this drunk,” she said, giggling.
“Don’t think I’ve ever been. Hey, let’s go… let’s go golfing. Like… right now. Let’s go hit a ball of buckets.”
Her giggling turned into full-blown laughter. “Neither one of us needs to be driving.”
“We’ll walk!” he proclaimed, and stumbled over an imaginary curb.
“I tell you what I want to do,” Brianna said, stopping and turning him towards her. The dark heavy scent of his cologne sent a little tingle up and down her spine, and she ran her fingers up and down his chest.
“Shit, Brianna, I think I’d see three pussies right now instead of one. I’d probably try to stick it in your thigh or something.”
Now she was the one who needed support, so hard was she laughing. “All right, all right. Hmm. How about you tell me the next part of the story?”
“Oh right!” he said, brightening. “The story! Take me home, pretty lady, and I’ll make word love to your ear holes!”