Girls up front by the big double doors. Boys in the back. There was a rule to this thing. The girls did not bother the boys. The boys left the girls alone.
Wait. I’m not doing this right.
When I was in my twenties and going to college in Springfield, I went out with D and Siren one night to a club. Siren was pissed about something, and she and her friend Mash ran off and left me and D to look at other gorgeous women all dressed up and dancing. It was a crying shame.
Anyway, in the far corner of the dance floor where no one was, we saw a huge man. He was obese and tall. Very tall. His clothing was a disaster. His hair a wild sty. He stood in the corner by himself and he danced. He danced as if his heart were overcome with the music. He sweat. A lot. And he threw his arms in the air in an obnoxious display of terrible dancing and even worse control of his body. He was an absolute mess.
He was a total genius.
I saw what he was doing the moment he did it, because I had done it before.
The men made fun of him. They laughed and pointed, and they sent him drinks to get him even more drunk so he would dance in even more erotic and over-the-top ways. Soon he was whipping what he had been given in widening circles and he had become the joke of the club.
This was fun for the girls for a while, but after watching him being ridiculed by their boyfriends they broke. Something in their hearts shattered for this poor sap, and they went out to dance with him.
Within an hour and a half of dancing by himself, he was surrounded by the most beautiful women in the club. They left their boyfriends, and the drunken slob, who had been drinking for free all night, was now surrounded by gorgeous women gyrating on his large body.
I think we can all agree he won that little war.
Now, with all that liquor running through him and all the sweating, perfect, voluptuous bodies swinging around him, me and D noticed this big guy started to get handsy. After a while, he was left on the floor alone again. But before the boyfriends were ready to make him pay for his grasping and grabbing, he left. Beelined it for the door and was in his car, gone.
We saw this guy everywhere. Every time he was found out at one club, he would go to another. We would see him the next week at a different club. Surrounded by women, getting his drinks bought for him by their boyfriends.
Shadow is a genius in his own right, and he worked the same game in the hall before school within a week into his relationship with Jazz.
The boys surrounded him, their weak punches pattering against him like rain. Their pathetic kicks failing to sweep him off his feet. He had mentioned this treatment to Jazz on the phone and she was not having it. She rallied up all the girlfriends and invaded. Every girl yelled at her boyfriend. Every boy stumbled all over himself trying to make up with his woman, and while all this was happening, Jazz swung in, grabbed my coat, and dragged me away, straight to the front of the line. Right up against the double doors. When the girls retreated from their attack on their guys, I was surrounded with girls, Jazz right beside me.
She was fierce. She was unapologetic and she could do anything she wanted.
She called me. She called me at all times of the day. And let’s talk about those calls. There was something about those calls I never could have guessed.
The first day I called her. Half an hour after sunset. Exactly when I was supposed to. I got her and I smiled.
“Go ahead. I’ll get a drink,” she said right away.
“Go ahead and do what?”
“Crawl in your den, or your tub, whichever it is tonight.”
I got in the tub, feeling exposed and strange. I closed the door and waited.
“You ready?” she said a few minutes later.
“Got your drink?”
“What are you drinking?” I had to try to get my bearings. She knew about the den. How did she know about the den, the tub? How much did she know?
“I’m drinking Dr. Pepper.” She paused. “I know it’s your favorite. That is why I had my mom buy some. I wanted to give it a chance.”
“What do you think?”
“Pretty good. You have good taste in women and soda,” she said with a laugh.
What was this girl? Girls didn’t do this. This was impossible.
“Okay, few things,” I said.
“Yeah, ask your questions. I’m sure you have lots of them.” She giggled.
“How are you doing this?”
“How am I doing what?”
“Don’t bullshit me, it makes it less fun,” I said. It was bold. I had never talked like that to a woman before. Had never made any demands.
She giggled again, and so did I.
“Start with the den. How did you find out about that?”
“Everyone knows you and X are werewolves, Joe. Everyone.”
“All the girls anyway. Ruffle told us all about it. She was your Pegasus. You were a werewolf hiding from the sway of the moonlight.”
“She told everyone?”
I felt betrayed. I felt lied to.
“Oh man, we have been talking about you,” Jazz said. “The boy with the tongue of gold. The mind to rival every love song we have ever heard. You’re quite the hit with the girls in town, Joe. But you’re all mine now.”
“You know about the soda?” My mind was stuttering, my stomach bunching up, and tying itself in knots.
“Okay, I can remember you talking to Ruffle about the weather and how the storms were chasing your mind across the Wasteland as it fought to get to the safety of her. Do you remember that night?”
I closed my eyes and fought to remember those words. I just couldn’t. They sounded like me, but when I got in this tub, something overcame me. Artist would lose himself and I would just talk. “Um, maybe I said it,” I muttered. “Sounds like something I might have said.”
“Well, I was spending the night at Jane’s.”
“Which Jane?” There were two of them and they were best friends.
“Both. All three of us were spending the night over at one of their houses and Ruffle called about ten. We had all been waiting for her call,” Jazz said. “We were waiting in the floor to hear what you had said to her that night on the phone.”
I felt my heart break out in a rampage. I could not feel my feet and suddenly out came Artist. His voice was a whisper. His voice was a sigh. “You heard sacred words spoken to a wagging tongue.”
“There you are,” Jazz said. “That is the voice she always talked about. The voice of romance.”
“I am the voice of many things. And you will hear some of them tonight spoken on the phone while I cower in the tub with your mind and your face hovering above me.”
“Wow, Joe, that is good shit,” she said.
Artist busted out laughing. It was not a laugh anyone but Ruffle had ever heard before. “Tell me more of this betrayal.”
“We heard all about your storms and all of that, and then we pulled out the letter from two days earlier.”
“The one she had loaned us. We read it again and the Janes got mad.”
“She loaned you our letters?”
“Often,” she said. “So, the Janes got raging mad, talking about how their boyfriends were shit and they never said anything nice. They read their letters and they cried. And I consoled them. It was all just a huge mess. Woke up that night and saw Jane Jaws with her hands folded over her chest, asleep, holding Ruffle’s letter.”
Artist laughed. “You’re lying.”
“Not this time.”
“Not this time?” Artist said outraged. “There will be lies?”
“You aren’t the only one who can tell stories, buddy. I’m a writer, too. Not as good as you, but I can spin a little.”
“Yup. I can talk to you and maybe send you for a bit of a flip. We will see.”
“Are you going to tell all the girls about this talk we are having tonight?” I said.
“God no, you’re all mine. They can guess at what we say. They are going to be pissed about it, but let them stew. I got you. I am not letting any of this go.”
So we talked. She brought out Artist. She spoke words that pulled Guardian to the front. Heard him talk about keeping her safe and she let him. She got ahold of Servant and he talked to her. He had never spoken to a girl before. Ruffle had always been too scary. Too beautiful and too intense for him. Her voice had been for Artist. But Jazz was cool. She was funny and she didn’t need the Artist show all the time.
She asked Shadow once about his room. “Describe it to me,” she said.
He told her about his posters and the bookshelf he had gotten for Christmas. He talked about his bunkbeds and his little brother, Grasp, who was quiet and nosey, but cool. When he was done, she sighed.
“Now lie to me,” she said.
Artist stepped forward. “You have heard about that, too?” he said.
“Yeah. Go ahead, Joe. Tell me a lie.”
That night, my room had a wall that was flaming, a wall made of eyes, a wall made of ice, and a wall made of nails. The ground was solid glass, ten feet thick, that showed the burning fires of hell below and the ceiling was open to the sky. The stars were diamonds and above me hovered a creature with tiger-striped wings and a black fur-covered body. Artist told her his name. Let her hear out across the phone line the name no one had ever heard before. “They call him Smear, Lord of Ire, and he is my storyteller.”
She sighed. “Goodnight, Joe. See you tomorrow.”
I sat, breathless in the tub, for an hour before I went to bed. I had not been ready for Jazz. Not in the dark. Not like that.