The Silver Year: Chapter 20

Chapter 20

Something in The Sinookas

 

Walter​​ awoke​​ to the scent of​​ freshly cut timber​​ and pine​​ needles.​​ The ticktock of the train’s wheels hypnotically​​ clapping​​ atop​​ the train​​ tracks​​ had lulled him and Kourtney to sleep,​​ her​​ shoulder serving as​​ his​​ pillow and his​​ head serving as​​ hers​​ during the ride down the mountain.​​ He​​ stayed still​​ not wanting to​​ disturb her.

Outside the​​ window,​​ dewed over​​ from the clouds they had just emerged from,​​ was​​ the rustic village of their Swiss chalet,​​ Lauterbrunnen,​​ a growing nest of pink roofs on an​​ endless​​ throughway of​​ vibrant​​ green. Guarding over the village​​ were​​ the​​ soaring​​ gray​​ limestone​​ cliffs​​ of Lauterbrunnen Valley, a​​ broad, U-shaped valley​​ ploughed​​ into the earth​​ as​​ if dug​​ by​​ a​​ gigantic​​ ice cream scooper,​​ topped​​ with​​ thick, dark​​ forests and​​ braided with​​ veins​​ of​​ whitewater​​ waterfalls​​ draining from the​​ bleach white​​ peaks of the Swiss Alps cutting jaggedly​​ along​​ the sky.

The​​ train​​ had just​​ come​​ from those peaks,​​ or more specifically a glacier saddle between them called Jungfraujoch.​​ At​​ over eleven-thousand​​ feet, the once desolate​​ mountain​​ saddle​​ had been transformed into a haven for tourists seeking a high-altitude adventure without the work​​ thanks to a​​ nine-kilometer railway partially built into the mountains,​​ complete​​ with​​ Europe's highest-altitude post office,​​ several shops​​ and​​ restaurants,​​ an​​ elaborate manmade​​ ice palace,​​ and​​ even ski slopes where​​ Curt,​​ an avid snowboarder,​​ still was.​​ 

The three of them had​​ taken​​ the train up​​ at​​ the agonizing hour of six​​ that morning.​​ Walter’s train​​ to Amsterdam​​ tomorrow, however, was​​ leaving even earlier, five-thirty.​​ He​​ still​​ hadn’t told Kourtney​​ yet​​ because​​ he​​ still​​ wasn’t​​ sure​​ if​​ he was going through with it.​​ Had he completely lost his mind? Was​​ he​​ really taking cues from​​ illusions now,​​ or​​ his encounter with​​ “Fate” as she liked to call herself?​​ However,​​ his encounter with Shiva​​ was just as strange and​​ just​​ as well​​ could’ve​​ been an illusion, but​​ at least​​ he had​​ some​​ real​​ proof of​​ that illusion: the Ace of Cups, still safely tucked away in his wallet.​​ But​​ then again,​​ maybe​​ everything​​ since Amsterdam​​ had​​ been imagined, an imagining​​ he was still​​ experiencing.​​ Maybe he​​ never actually made it to Amsterdam. Maybe he​​ lost​​ his mind​​ back in London and that’s where his​​ “real”​​ self was,​​ heavily​​ sedated and strapped to a hospital​​ bed​​ in​​ some​​ psych​​ unit.​​ Maybe Europe​​ had made him lose his mind.​​ That would be​​ the most​​ rational​​ explanation.

However,​​ whether​​ inside​​ his head or not, this was the reality he was​​ dealt​​ and Amsterdam​​ seemed to be​​ the​​ place​​ where he​​ would find out, or if​​ not, hopefully find his way out. At least that’s the impression Fate or Beatrice or whoever’s answer gave him.​​ He had to find​​ out​​ what happened to​​ Shiva,​​ and Dug​​ was​​ somehow​​ at the center of it. But​​ Fate/Beatrice​​ also​​ said divine love was sometimes in the strangest of places, but Walter​​ hoped to God Dug wasn’t​​ what it/she meant​​ by strange.

Speaking of God, of course maybe all this strangeness was him or her or it, but why would God be so concerned with Walter’s affairs when there were so many other affairs he or she or it should be concerned with​​ over his?​​ No, God​​ was​​ only further proof of insanity.

Kourtney awoke​​ and took her neck off​​ Walter’s​​ head. “So beautiful,” she said stretching her arms​​ and​​ looking​​ out​​ the window.​​ “Are you going​​ to​​ the P-Party tonight?” she asked. P was the theme of the night’s costume party, and​​ any​​ extrapolation​​ on what that meant was accepted,​​ but​​ pirate, pimp, and policeman​​ were​​ the most popular​​ picks.​​ 

“No,”​​ Walter​​ said. “There’s something I need to do early tomorrow morning. Are you​​ going?”

“What do you think?” she said smiling.

“Didn’t figure you were, but you asked. The​​ parties​​ aren’t​​ as bad​​ as​​ you think.”

“Yes they are. Especially tonight’s.​​ Remember I’ve been on one of these before. At the P-Party on my​​ last​​ tour about​​ a​​ dozen blokes showed up with nothing on, taking P-Party to mean ‘penis’ party. Yeah, not for me.​​ What’s​​ so important to get you up early​​ again​​ tomorrow?”

“Well,​​ I’m still not sure if I’m going​​ through with it.”

“You’re going back to Amsterdam aren’t you?”

“How’d you know?”

“I don’t know. Just​​ sensed​​ something​​ in the​​ sinookas​​ I suppose, like our karass​​ was​​ beginning to wane​​ into its other wampeter.​​ Back in Venice, when we were a part, I just began thinking about how maybe you should go back to Amsterdam. Maybe you should do everything you can while you’re still on the same continent as Shiva—or hopefully you still are. It’s actually why I asked you what you were doing tonight. I wanted to talk to you about it. I think I might’ve been a​​ wrang-wrang​​ in the wrong direction by convincing you to continue this tour.”

Walter laughed. “I see you’ve taken to​​ Cat’s Cradle,” he said.​​ He had given Kourtney the book​​ four days earlier​​ after he had finished reading it.​​ “And apparently​​ you’ve​​ experienced quite the vin-dit. But no Kourtney,​​ you were​​ definitely​​ a wrang-wrang​​ in the right direction.​​ I needed these last few days with you and Curt​​ on tour​​ more than you know.​​ Also,​​ I​​ haven’t told you​​ yet, but I​​ got my sign from​​ Fate, and​​ funny enough,​​ it happened​​ in Venice​​ too.”

“Really?​​ What was​​ it?”

Walter took a few​​ starts​​ before figuring out what to say.​​ “Well...” he said, “even though​​ it​​ really​​ wasn’t, I can​​ only​​ describe it​​ as​​ a sign from God only I would understand—or​​ it​​ could’ve been​​ a​​ psychotic episode.​​ Either way, I’m pretty sure it meant go back to Amsterdam—I think—I hope.”

“Well,​​ as Bokonon says,” Kourtney said, “'peculiar travel suggestions are dancing lessons from God’.​​ Maybe you should let​​ God​​ lead​​ the dance.”

“But​​ what is God?”

“God is Love.​​ That’s all God has to be.”

“But what is Love?”

“Love is you. And that’s all Love has to be.”

Walter thought about it. As simple as it was,​​ other than​​ music,​​ it​​ was​​ an argument for God he couldn’t refute.​​ Maybe God did have a place in life.

“Man, you’ve really gone deep​​ into​​ Bokononism,” he said.

“Apparently I have,” Kourtney said. “I’m just as surprised with how much has stuck with me after​​ finishing​​ the book. For a fake religion built on lies it sure speaks a hell of a lot​​ of​​ truth.​​ Maybe Kurt Vonnegut is God​​ or something. Or maybe just the god​​ assigned to you.”

“Would sure explain a hell of a lot​​ . . . Is this elevation making you feel as stoned as me?”​​ 

“Would sure explain a hell of a lot.”

They both fell into heavy chuckles,​​ then fell quiet,​​ watching the village​​ slowly​​ grow larger​​ outside the window.​​ “So​​ you’re​​ for sure​​ going back​​ then?”​​ Kourtney​​ asked.

“Well, at this point​​ you’ve​​ convinced​​ me Kurt Vonnegut will have it no other way,” Walter​​ said​​ with a smile that quickly fell away.​​ “However,​​ something in the sinookas​​ is telling​​ me​​ this next leg of my journey is one I have to face​​ alone​​ as much as I want my​​ trusty​​ wrang-wrang with me.”

“I​​ know,”​​ she​​ said.​​ “Something in the sinookas also told me this. Like I said,​​ our karass​​ is waning into its other​​ wampeter, and I believe that wampeter is concerned with finding you true love. Not that Curt and I don’t love you, truly we do, but you know, a duprass only has room for one more, and​​ you’re not going to find your ‘one’ with us two.”

“Yes, but that doesn’t make it any easier leaving you,​​ and by you,​​ I mean​​ especially​​ you.​​ How​​ did​​ I ever get by without a friend like you?”

Kourtney wiped​​ a wayward tear from his face​​ doing her best to contain herself.​​ “Let’s not​​ begin​​ goodbyes​​ just yet,” she said.​​ “Let’s do it somewhere out of the public eye because I know I’ll be a mess.​​ What do you say to​​ another​​ romantic friendship date​​ after dinner​​ tonight? I​​ know​​ a great little lookout point​​ near the chalet​​ that​​ would be great for a smoke sesh​​ and​​ some​​ stargazing.”

 

At​​ dinner,​​ Walter said goodbye to Curt​​ and explained why​​ in terms only a Bokononist of the same karass would understand,​​ and​​ of course he​​ clearly​​ understood.​​ He​​ too had​​ already​​ sensed something in the sinookas. For everyone else, a little foma was​​ provided​​ about​​ a mix up​​ of​​ flight plans that had​​ Walter​​ leaving out of Amsterdam instead of Paris and it was too late and too expensive to try and change it.

After dinner,​​ while everyone​​ else dressed​​ (and yes in some cases undressed)​​ for the P-Party, Kourtney and Walter​​ found​​ a bottle of wine and​​ some​​ flashlights and headed​​ to an overgrown gravel trail not far from the​​ chalet running​​ alongside​​ one​​ of​​ the valley’s​​ cliffsides.​​ The sky was​​ clear and moonless,​​ encrusted over​​ with​​ stars. In​​ the air,​​ rumblings​​ and mutterings​​ of rushing water from​​ the​​ nearby​​ Lütschine​​ River​​ and the​​ many​​ waterfalls​​ beating the valley walls.​​ 

The trail​​ soon​​ began​​ ascending,​​ leading to a​​ rock​​ opening​​ in the cliffside. Inside was​​ a narrow and steep stairwell, and after a long and sharply zigzagging climb, they emerged onto​​ a platform stamped into the rockface​​ behind a gently​​ flowing waterfall. The view was somewhat​​ similar​​ to the one​​ from the train window earlier, except now​​ the valley was only a silhouetted cradle against the shimmering sky,​​ the​​ village looking​​ like​​ a​​ small globule​​ of​​ stars​​ that had​​ dripped down​​ from the Milky Way river crossing​​ overhead. Hanging over the​​ globule​​ was​​ what looked to be a low-flying comet, but in actuality​​ was​​ the​​ spot-lit​​ sprays​​ of​​ a​​ waterfall​​ near the center of town.​​ 

“Oh my God,” Walter said walking to the platform edge and feeling the underside of the waterfall.

“Right?” Kourtney said. “Lauterbrunnen​​ was the stop I was looking forward to most.​​ Did you know​​ Tolkien’s inspiration for Rivendell was this valley?”

 “The​​ place in​​ Lord of the Rings​​ with​​ all​​ the elves?”

She laughed.​​ “Yes, that place.”

“I can see it.​​ It’s certainly​​ an otherworldly​​ place, the​​ most beautiful place​​ I think​​ I’ve​​ been.​​ And those stars…”​​ he said fanning his hand over them.

“You’re always looking at those stars aren’t you?”​​ she said smiling.

“It’s the closest thing I​​ have​​ to prayer.​​ It gives me perspective on things.”

“So it’s where you​​ talk to​​ God?”

“You mean Kurt Vonnegut?”

They again burst into laughter, their chuckles​​ stretching and contracting​​ against the rock walls and​​ the lapping​​ laughter​​ of the waterfall.

“Well,​​ Vonnegut or not,” Walter said, “God is giving me some good fodder for​​ one hell of a​​ book.​​ Maybe that’s our karass’s other wampeter.​​ It is​​ really​​ why I came on this trip. I just didn’t know every karass has two wampeters. I didn’t know God​​ also​​ wanted me to find true love. I never thought I deserved it.”

“Oh,​​ so every wampeter revolves around you?” Kourtney smiled​​ teasingly.​​ “Your book better have a character based on me.”

“Of course, but​​ she’ll be no substitute for the real thing. However, I guess she’ll have to make due​​ for me​​ until our karass feels the need to wax us back together.”

“Well, something in the sinookas tells me it​​ certainly​​ will, possibly soon. Curt and I​​ are staying in Paris for a week after the tour ends. Promise you’ll come find us if you don’t find​​ a reason to stay in​​ Amsterdam?​​ You already said your plane home takes off from there anyway.​​ Or maybe​​ we can​​ have the best of both worlds and you and Shiva come find us​​ after you find her​​ in​​ Amsterdam?”​​ 

“Wouldn’t that be the happy ending?​​ Although it​​ could​​ be​​ just as possible I go all the way to Amsterdam only to discover she won’t leave Mags.”

“Something in the sinookas makes me doubt that, but maybe​​ we should​​ boko-maru​​ so we have​​ Vonnegut on our side​​ for a happy ending.​​ You know​​ how much​​ God loves flattery.”

“Yes, but you also know He ‘never wrote a good play in his life.’”

Again they were overcome with giggles, giggles which only grew from the strange sound of their giggles echoing back at them in their rocky​​ outcropping.

“Do we even need to get stoned​​ with this elevation?” Walter asked​​ still trying to control his laughter.

“No, this is perfect enough. This is as close to heaven as I think you​​ can​​ get. I love​​ you​​ Walter.”

“I love you Kourtney.”

They​​ then​​ shared​​ a​​ long and powerful hug and sob,​​ then laid down​​ on​​ the blanket they brought, took off their shoes and socks,​​ and​​ kissed their naked soles​​ together​​ for their boko-maru, laughing​​ so loudly​​ it turned into snorting that​​ sounded​​ like a​​ foghorn​​ farting​​ as​​ it shot off​​ into the dark​​ down​​ the valley.

Best friends are the​​ best because they​​ are the ones you can be your silliest with, your craziest with, your most pathetic with,​​ your best with, your true self with,​​ even if you can’t always be with them, for time and space has no effect on best friends. True best friends are forever even if those best friends only get the chance to meet once in life . . .​​ or after​​ life. ​​ 

 

 

 ​​ 

 

 

The Silver Year: Chapter 12

Chapter 12

Sisyphus Smiles

 

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.

“What?”

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​​ youneeds 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 ageevery 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.

“Just​​ like...”

“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.”

“Us​​ too.”

“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?”

“What?”

“I think the sex just wore off.”

It was then Walter realized Billie too must be a member of his karass.​​