Walter’s feet autonomously danced as he slept. They were happy, spinning in circles and curling in on themselves. It had been awhile since they’d done a happy dance.
Unlike his feet, however, Walter was not a morning person. He loathed the hours before nine a.m. and anyone or anything that disturbed them—including morning head.
“Goo mooring bab,” Billie said with a mouthful of Walter. He continued to pretend he was asleep. “Goo mooring bab,” she said a little louder. She shook his leg. “GOO MOORING BAB!”
“Yes-yes, hi . . . Ah great, oh, aw.”
“Dis eh ah fir time I don dis,” she said under the covers.
“Dis eh ah fir time I don dis.” He reached down and pulled his member out.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“I said, this is the first time I’ve done this.”
“What, morning head?”
“No, a blowjob. I’ve never given one. Do you like it babe?” Babe. That word made his spinal cord squirm.
“I’m not disliking it,” he said, “but I’m extremely tired right now. So you can continue if you’d like, but I’m warning you, you’re probably not going to get the response you’re hoping for. Truthfully, I’m going back to sleep.”
“Wow, you’re in a lovely mood this morning.” She came up from under the covers.
“I’m never in a ‘lovely’ mood in the morning,” Walter said, “especially after…” he looked at the clock on the bed stand, “...not even four hours of sleep. What the hell are you doing up?”
“I told you. I have to get up early for work. I had room service bring you some breakfast.” Walter noticed a brown paper bag on a nearby table.
“Thanks,” he said.
“You’re welcome babe.” Babe again. This time his spine shook so harshly it brought him out of the bed and onto his feet. “What are you doing babe?” Billie asked. “I don’t have to leave yet. Come back and cuddle.”
“Okay, I’ve got to be honest,” Walter said. “For someone I just met, you are way too comfortable calling me babe and it’s freaking me out a little. Especially since I was supposed to share this bed with my girlfriend.”
“Girlfriend? What happened to ex-ex-girlfriend? And yes, I know we just met, but something special happened last night. We connected more than just physically.”
“Yes we did, but a connection doesn’t always mean it’s something special. You’ll learn this about one-night stands.”
“So last night meant nothing then?”
“I don’t know, kinda.”
“Kinda? Well, it meant a lot to me, and those feelings were very real to me. How dare you take advantage of them. You’re no different than all the rest of the assholes here. In fact, you’re worse because you pretend not to be.”
Walter groaned. What the hell happened? he thought. She was so delightful last night. Should’ve never fucked a virgin. Good job Dick, you did it again, always hogging the blood flow so Brain can’t have any.
“I’m really sorry,” he said. “I really, really am. But please try to look at this logically. I’m on vacation, here for two nights. I just wanted something fun, and I don’t think I was deceitful about this. As I remember it, I told you not to do this, but you still insisted that I ‘fuck the Mormon girl glow’ out of you, so I did. Now, just like last night when you didn’t bother to tell me you were a virgin until I was already inside you, you’re pulling a bait and switch again. You’re the asshole, not me—sorry, I didn’t mean to say it like that. It’s just hard to be graceful about my feelings this early in the morning.”
Billie became quiet for a moment. “I said that?” she said.
“Oh God, please tell me you remember?”
“I do, but I forgot about it until you reminded me. I just normally would never say something like that.” She then began crying like a belligerent cat.
Walter crawled back into bed and held her. “I’m sorry,” she cried into his chest, “but I don’t know what I’m doing. This is all new to me, drinking and sex. I thought I was ready to do it; I thought it wasn’t going to be a big deal, but it is—it really is. I lost my virginity, something so sacred to me for most of my life, and I just threw it away. The worst part is, I actually thought it’d be okay when I woke up this morning. I woke up feeling great—feeling in love. I fell in love with you last night and I thought you fell in love with me. Now you’re telling me that it was just a shift in the sack? You made me feel more attractive and special than I’ve ever felt in my life. The way you kissed me, the way you looked at me; how careful you were to make sure I was comfortable because you knew it was my first time; the way you ran your lips over my body and told me how beautiful you thought my curves were even though I’ve been self-conscious about the weight I’ve gained. I know I don’t have a lot of experience, but if you weren’t trying to make me fall in love, you failed miserably. Please, you can’t tell me that last night meant nothing to you—please.”
Walter’s head sank in anguish against the headboard. The light of morning had exposed an ugly truth: he had fucked a child. He had defiled a twenty-two year old child without any thought to the mindfuck it would unleash upon her. While he had tried to stop himself, it was more like a rolling stop, only giving the appearance of effort.
“It didn’t mean nothing,” he said. “It always means something, just not always forever. Yes, in the act of lovemaking it always does feel like love to some degree, but ninety-nine percent of the time that feeling eventually fades away, usually immediately after, but sometimes a little longer.”
“But what about the one percent of the time?”
“Then that’s a forever I suppose. But finding someone like that on your first try on your first time together is practically impossible. Even what most people think of as forevers are just compromises.”
“How would you know?”
“I don’t. But I do know this isn’t forever. There’s no way a relationship can work from across the world, and I’m in no shape for a girlfriend right now. But also, I actually fell in love with my first too, but luckily she was well-versed in human neuroscience and explained to me that I was not in love, but just had my mind blown with a firehose of dopamine and oxytocin for the first time, making me think I was in love. I, like you right now, was literally high off my balls on sex and mistook it as love because I didn’t know any better. Sex is just a drug, and like any drug it makes you feel awesome, but at the same time do stupid things like telling someone you hardly know you’re falling in love with them. Eventually you build up a tolerance though. That’s why your first time really should be with someone you care about, or someone who can at least tell you what’s going on with your brain chemistry. But still, it’s not a big deal. You’re just a dopamine drunken ape smart enough to recognize her animal instincts, but too smart to realize that’s all they really are.”
The look on her face was lost somewhere between shock and revulsion. “Was that supposed to make me feel better?” she asked.
“Maybe the strictly scientific explanation wasn’t the best choice in this situation.”
Billie began crying again. “I’m such an idiot,” she said. “This was the worst mistake of my life.”
“Please don’t say that,” Walter begged. “I’m sorry, but because we just brushed over your virginity last night, I didn’t really think about the repercussions because I actually took your word when you said you were annoyed by it and didn’t care if it was special, but obviously that was a mistake because I know better. C’mon,” Walter said rubbing her back, “you didn’t make the worst mistake of your life. That’s just the shedding of twenty-two years of brainwashing that you need to marry and seal yourself to someone for time and all eternity in the eyes of God just to get laid. That will go away eventually too, I promise.”
She pushed his hand away and got up from the bed. “Fine, whatever,” she said. “I get it. I’m just the crazy virgin, or drunk ape or whatever you said.”
Billie then moped about the room silently, picking up her scattered articles of clothing Walter had thrown like wrapping paper the night before. She covered her breasts and crotch the best she could, feeling ashamed of her naked body now.
“Do you see my bra anywhere?” she asked. Walter, still sitting in bed, looked under the covers and found it.
“Here it is,” he said holding it up to her.
“Thanks,” she said and turned away from him to put it on.
“Listen...” he said awkwardly to her back, “...I really appreciate everything. The breakfast and the... you know. It was… very thoughtful. I’m also honored I got to be your first. Please don’t hate me. I really did have a great time with you last night, and you’re really a great person, it’s just—”
“Just shut up!” Billie said to the wall in front of her. “Please, just shut up.”
After she finished clothing and opened the door to leave, she looked back at him still sitting in the bed, now with tears in his eyes. “Why are you crying?” she asked, but didn’t wait for a response before the door slammed and she was gone. Walter then noticed the writing on the outside of her paper bag breakfast: Walter :-) XOXO in black permanent marker. That happy face killed him.
While he had plans of visiting Westminster Abbey and the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Walter was put into an unmovable depression. He kept staring at the door from his bed, hoping it would reopen and he’d see Billie smiling like the night before, and the longer it didn’t, the larger his fire of internal hatred grew; hatred for hurting her; hatred for wasting his vacation in his hotel room; hatred for every small imperfection and transgression he could find within his twisted imagination.
He then thought back to all the women he thoughtlessly plunged into before Billie and wondered why she was affecting him so differently. Was it only because he’d defiled a virginity, or was something else hiding beneath his thick flesh of meaningless conquest? A realization then itched: he was only wearing this flesh for his ego’s happiness, not his own. But ego is the master at making its happiness our own, but what ego doesn’t consider is other people, and that’s why ego has no place in finding love.
But who needs love when so many women are willing to senselessly sleep with you? his penis seemed to say. One needs a variety of lovers as one needs a variety of friends, and once I’m inside one of those delectable morsels again you’ll wonder why you ever wasted any time on finding love . . . Yes, that’s it. Think of all the jiggling breast tissue and creamy meat you’ve put me into. We’ve got a good thing going on you know? You reel ‘em in with those good looks and whispered sweet nothings, then BAM! I finish ‘em off like a semen soufflé. Why would you ever want to break this tag team up?
“Because you’re a dick—literally and figuratively,” Walter said out loud.
Yeah, but I’m the only thing protecting you from love.
“Love isn’t a venereal disease you know?”
For me it is. Love is the death of me.
“And maybe that’s a good thing. As Grandma said, enemies are better beaten with understanding, and I understand now why this snake in my pants—aka you—needs to be kept under control, and I don’t know why it took Billie to realize it when you’ve already committed much worse atrocities. If I keep getting pulled astray by all your appeals, my heart will never find love, but that’s exactly what you want. You work for the ego, not the heart.
But what does Heart know? We both know he’s an idiot too. How many times has he got you in trouble?
“No more than you.”
Point taken, but at least my trouble comes with some fun. His trouble is nothing but agony and blue balls and is always so much worse. Plus, do you really think love is for you? Love is for homebodies, not restless spirits. Love is going to hurt you much more than I will.
“And that’s the conundrum I always face; you’re right. Love has always been painful for me. But then again, have I ever really attempted to find it without falling into it by accident first? But for now, so neither you or Heart can fuck things up while I try to figure myself out, females are friends only going forward until I learn how to see them only as such before I see them as anything else, despite how unnatural that might feel for any twenty-five-year-old single straight male, yet alone one who’s used to having women senselessly throw themselves at him. But I do want and believe in love, no matter how much finding it may hurt me, and breaking up with you is the first step.”
His penis stopped talking to him, and soon the other dissenters followed, encouraging him enough to finally get out of bed. He ate his paper bag breakfast, a now cold egg sandwich, but needed some coffee. Looking at the clock, he realized the hotel’s continental breakfast was still open for five more minutes, so he threw some clothes on and hurried downstairs.
Making it just as the hotel staff was clearing everything away, the coffee pot had enough left for one good-sized cup. “Damn, is that the last of it?” a female Australian or Kiwi accent—he still couldn’t distinguish the difference yet—asked from behind him right before he was going to take it.
“I think so. They already put everything else away, but we can split it.” Walter turned around and was met by a girl about his age—every guest in the hotel was about his age. A bit of a tomboy, she had dark, shaggy, moptop hair, and wore a baggy, black shirt under a plaid flannel. Her face was warm and makeup-free with large pea green eyes and a charming Koala-like nose.
Females are friends only, females are friends only, females are friends only... He chanted his new mantra to himself. He sort of had a thing for tomboys.
Her mouth suspended open and she suddenly became nervous upon seeing his face. “N-no, that’s okay,” she said. “Take it. Not enough for two cups anyway.”
“No, really. I think we can make two cups out of this.”
A guy with shaggy hair and baggy clothes like her then came out of the nearby elevator. “Did we miss it Kourt?” he asked coming over. They looked like relatives, but his accent was distinctly American, twanging somewhere between a meow and Tom Petty. His stoney eyes drooped lackadaisically, and he had a permanent and slightly crooked smirk.
“Woah,” he said noticing Walter. “I see you made a new friend.” Walter tensed. The first American he’d encountered on the trip and already he was recognized. “Aren’t you going to introduce me?” the guy asked the girl.
“Actually,” she said. “I haven’t even introduced myself.”
“Why not? You’re a huge fan.”
“I just figured this wasn’t the right time for that . . . I’m Kourtney, this is my brother Curt,” she said to Walter.
“No, different spellings. And no correlation, just a coincidence. We didn’t even know we were brother and sister until last year, but that’s a long story.”
“Nice to meet you both. Well, I’m just Walter now, in case you had me confused with Quinn Quark.” They laughed. “And I really appreciate you trying to respect my privacy,” he said to Kourtney.
“Of course. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to always be worried about people recognizing me. I already worry enough that people are judging me . . . But since you are here, can I ask you something, what tuning is ‘The MagPi Song’ in?”
“How do you know about ‘The MagPi Song’? I only uploaded a demo to a secret name on SoundCloud.”
“Like Curt said, I’m a huge fan.” She smiled bashfully.
And apparently a musician, Walter thought smiling back. Friend only, friend only...
“It’s DGCGCD,” he said, “I borrowed it from ‘The Rain Song’.”
“That makes perfect sense. Thank you. So are you here with Contiki?”
“Yeah. The European Horizon tour.”
“Wow, and I thought Contiki tours were only for partying college kids and bogans.”
Kourtney laughed. “What makes you think we aren’t?” she said. “That’s their reputation, which is somewhat earned, but also somewhat exaggerated. It’s really just a great way to travel cheap. This is my second one and I still have friends from my first I talk to all the time.”
“Hey,” Curt said with the last of the breakfast pastries in his hand, “Don’t mean to intrude, but either of you going to drink that coffee?”
“Take it,” Walter said. “I was going to see if I can get some fresh coffee at the pub or a café anyway.
“Thanks,” Curt said and poured all the pot’s contents into his cup.
“Guess I’ll be getting some coffee at the pub too,” Kourtney said to Walter. “But after that, if you don’t have plans for the day, we’re heading out to Stonehenge on a bus in an hour if you want to join?” She brought her index finger to her lips. “We also brought some weed to smoke.”
On the bus ride, Walter learned Curt and Kourtney were technically half brother and sister, and also to his relief, that Kourtney was gay. They shared a father together who had been a roadie for Dire Straits during their 1986 Brother in Arms Tour, and sometime during the band’s four-night stint in Sydney, their father impregnated Kourtney’s mother after he told her he was the bassist for the band. But being a rather active groupie in the eighties, by the time her mother realized she was pregnant, she couldn’t even recall all the candidates, so Kourtney spent most of her life without one. However, after taking an at-home DNA test the year before, she was matched to Curt, and with the help of their parents, the pieces of the story were connected. Contiki, though, was the siblings first opportunity to acquaint themselves in-person.
When they arrived, Stonehenge was nowhere near as exotically isolated as it looked in pictures—instead it was surrounded by ropes, a walkway, parking lots, and of course a gift shop, but the group was able to find some solitude to smoke atop one of the many surrounding burial mounds that sprouted up from the countryside like lumpy land warts.
“How’d you get weed on the plane?” Walter asked Kourtney after she pulled out a joint.
“In tampons. But only five joints. I could’ve waited until Amsterdam, but I wasn’t going to not get stoned at Stonehenge.”
After sparking up, they leaned against the land wart to smoke. Passing the joint, they sucked in the verdant expanse of English countryside speckled with sheep to their left and Stonehenge in the distance to their right. Above them, an endless quilt of cloud was lathed, and beneath them, an ancient civilization lay, a reminder all of presence would someday decay. Even the universe isn’t excluded from that lurking misfortune of entropy, but beauty is nothing without death.
“This is some really great shit,” Walter said passing the now nub of a joint back to Kourtney.
“Finish it off,” she said. “I got greens anyhow.”
“Curt?” Walter asked.
“All yours my friend.” And so Walter did.
“What a great day,” he said after, “the first one in a long time. I’m so glad I met you guys. I’m so happy we’re on the same tour together.”
Kourtney began laughing. “You weren’t kidding when you said you haven’t smoked in a while,” she said.
“Yes, seriously, thank you. I needed this. But also seriously, fate’s been dealing me a lot of shit hands lately, but just in time it deals me Curt and Kourtney. I feel like I’ve already known you forever, like something from this book I’ve been reading that a friend recommended called Cat’s Cradle, something called a karass. It’s when a group of people are cosmically connected for a purpose, but they may never know fully what that purpose is or everyone involved.”
“I know that book,” Curt said. “It’s one of my favorites. ‘If you find your life tangled up with somebody else’s life for no very logical reasons, that person may be a member of your karass.’”
“Of course you would!” Walter said smiling. “You’re member of my karass. Man, I love you guys. This has been such a great day.”
They all started laughing. “We love you too man,” Curt said.
“Well, I kind of already loved you both before this,” Kourtney said, “but now I love you even more. And how freaking lucky are we—me especially—to be on the same tour with you Walter?”
“No, I’m so much more lucky to have you. This is going to be a great trip. It already is.”
When they returned to the Royal National Hotel that evening for their pre-trip meeting in the Contiki Basement, however, Walter’s great day was quickly rained on.
“Hey, it’s Quinn Queer!” a short American serviceman—judging by his crewcut—immediately shouted as Walter entered the basement. “Where’s your dress?”
Unlike the night before in the pub, there were plenty of Americans going out on his Contiki trip. His European safe harbor was vanishing.
The serviceman along with two other servicemen he was with erupted in laughter, but in Walter’s mind it was everyone in the room. They were all placing a mask on him carefully crafted by the media and he was defenseless to do anything about it. Again he was the monkey in a cage, and although a continent away from Quinn Quark’s grave, he was realizing quickly he still shared the same planet with his corpse.
He tried to laugh it off, but inside he was drowning and the laugh came out sounding like a gag for air, while tears began refilling his eyes.
“Are you crying?” the serviceman said, and began laughing harder. “Oh my god, you really are a little girl.”
“Okay enough!” a female Contiki representative barked like an Aussie drill sergeant. “You are all at least considered adults back in your home countries, so let’s please act like ones. I know the meeting isn’t supposed to begin for another couple minutes, but let’s make something very clear upfront; there is zero tolerance for disrespect. Maybe you’re not offended by the name Quinn Queer, but I am. I don’t care who he is or what he did to you outside of this tour, if I hear you say that name again or make any other derogatory remark to anyone it will be my absolute pleasure to send your ass packing. Is that clear?”
“Yes ma’am,” the serviceman said soberly as his friends chuckled under their breaths.
“Thank you,” she said as she went to the front of the room. “With that out of the way, let me introduce myself. My name is Anna, I am your tour manager, but not your babysitter. Before we start roll, there’s a few things you need to know. Our bus along with another group’s bus will be leaving from the hotel courtyard at eight a.m. tomorrow, but you need to be there no later than seven-fifteen so we have time to weigh everyone’s luggage. Please keep this time in mind if you go out drinking tonight. Also, hopefully you already weighed your luggage at home as the European Union requires all bags to be under twenty kilos or forty-four pounds each. After weighing the luggage, both buses will then travel together to the channel ferry in Dover, then once we arrive in France, our bus will continue to Amsterdam while the other will depart for Paris…”
“Hey man,” Curt whispered to Walter, “once this shit’s done, Kourt and me are going to Camden Town. You in?”
“I guess,” Walter said.
“Come on, cheer up. You’ll love it. There’s a reggae show tonight that’s rumored to be 420-friendly. You know another joint and some music will get you smiling again.”
Walter’s face was able to make a half-grin until…
“Amber Evans,” Anna said. “Amber Evans . . . Is there an Amber Evans here?”
Unthinkingly, Walter stood from his chair and ran for the exit.
Outside on the street, he began pacing and breathing heavily like a disorientated drunk, bumping into people and tripping over his toes. His mind felt like a sock in a dryer, unable to orient its spinning surroundings. Almost by accident, he stumbled into one of London’s famous red phone booths and fell to the floor. There he huddled into his knees and stayed until Curt and Kourtney eventually found him.
“I’m sorry,” Walter said as they opened the door. “I think I might be—may be-be-be—having a mild to severe anxiety attack right now. I’m not sure. I just don’t know what to do. I want to run away, run away back home, but I can’t. Back home is even worse. I just want off this planet right now. Is it too much to ask to have one place in the world where nobody knows you, where I’m not Quinn fucking Quark? I hate this! I fucking hate this! I don’t want to be here anymore—”
“Stop it!” Kourtney grabbed him forcefully by the shoulders. “What are you getting so worked up about? No one’s out to get you, calm down. You’re just famous, not at war. And that guy back there is a complete asshole and everyone knows it. You are a good, kind, extraordinary person, and anyone who can’t see that isn’t worth your worrying. They’re probably just jealous or insecure about themselves, and it’s not your responsibility to make them feel better.”
Kourtney squatted down to meet Walter eye-to-eye. “We love you,” she said, “and we would be crushed if you left now because I don’t think we’re going to find what us three have with anyone else back in that basement. Remember, we’re in the same karass, and our journey together has just begun. We already gave Anna your name for roll, so you don’t have to go back. What do you say we get some music and weed in you, then see how you feel once you’re thinking straight?”
Walter smiled at her. She smiled back.
Why do the good ones always have to be friends? he thought.
After a great night of reggae in Camden Town, the trio returned to the hotel a little past midnight. Thoroughly stoned and exhausted, Walter was eager for bed, but when he opened his room door, he found something already occupying it.
“Hey, you’re finally back,” a naked Billie said rubbing her eyes as he turned on a light. “I’ve been waiting for hours.”
“How’d you get in here?” he asked.
“I can get keys for any room. Remember, I deal them out. So, I waited around all day for ‘the sex’ to wear off, but nope. I still feel like I’m in love with you. I know you don’t and won’t ever, but at least I can have you one more night. If that’s all I can get, I’ll take it.”
She stood from the bed and walked toward him. He could smell the sickly scent of vodka and orange juice on her breath. She then began kissing his neck. “I’m all yours,” she told him.
“How about instead I get you back for breakfast this morning and order you some room service to sober you up?” Walter said politely peeling her from his neck.
“But I.. But why?”
“Because I learned my lesson last night. While it’s kind of creepy you snuck in my room, I’m actually really glad you’re here. There’s some things I need to say I wish I would’ve said this morning . . . Last night was my fault. I knew better. I wish I could change what I did, but I can’t. I can only say I’m sorry.”
Billie sighed and fidgeted uncomfortably, then sat on the end of the bed. “It’s all right,” she said. “I forgive you. We all do regrettable things when we’re drunk, including myself, like not deciding to tell you I was a virgin until it was too late. That wasn’t your fault. But being an insensitive asshole this morning, you can take the blame for that. Also, it really wasn’t such a horrible first time. Better with you than a lot of other guys. I don’t think most guys would’ve cared as much in the same situation. I’m sorry I said it was the worst mistake of my life. I actually learned a lot about myself, and my brain chemistry too I guess.”
“So you don’t hate me?” Walter said.
“No. But I will take you up on some food. I’m starving. Room service isn’t operating right now though.”
“Fresh air goes well with food. C’mon, let’s go find a place.”
Billie smiled, smiled like she had the night before. “Okay,” she said. “That sounds great actually . . . Hey, you know what?”
“I think the sex just wore off.”
It was then Walter realized Billie too must be a member of his karass.