Author's Note: Thanks for dinner last night, I had a good time, and the charbroiled baby giraffe you prepared was delicious.

Twenty Two

I spent my time with Sharon, four days of bliss. We went everywhere in my car, the car that got my mom through some pretty tough winters. We even went to Malibu Beach and sat by the waves, and talked, and tossed sand around. I told Sharon about things I've read, things I saw in high school on nightly excursions, more heroic stories about Roger, things I've never told anyone else. She told me about this fool at work or that fool on the bus, and her stories were happy, sad, brimming with that curiosity of hers. When I felt like kissing her, I held it in until I couldn't hold it in anymore. I wanted to tell her I wanted to marry her, but I decided I would keep that in for years.

On those four days, I'd shakily turn the lock and we'd throw ourselves into the apartment. My best hours were spent there, making up the difference of all the other hours I've spent alone in my life.

I got a call from Roger on the fourth day, asking if I was still coming on the road trip. I said, Yeah, of course.

Sharon never invited herself and I never asked, because-well, because I was embarrassed. I left her place feeling like I shouldn't, but I did anyway, even feeling for one brief moment a blast of the future and heavy loss. I told her I'd see again. She said I was welcome any time, her hair long, wild, messy, wearing a shirt and no underwear as she hid behind the door.

When I got home, Jane was still waiting there. In a new change of clothes, but she was there, smoking a cigarette with Joyce ex Machina and Carla.

"Hey, Roman!" Joyce waved as I got out of my car.

"Hey," I said, coming up to the three with my hands in my pockets like an idiot.

Jane blew a puff of smoke in my direction and smiled in a way that made me want to love her. She's looking like a journalist already.

"Welcome home," Carla said in a quiet voice.

"Where's Rick?" I asked.

"Still asleep. You pummeled him pretty good," Joyce hooted.

"It's not funny," Carla cut in, looking straight ahead of her with fixed intensity. "Rick's in a lot of pain right now."

"At least he left the face alone," Joyce said. "That was pretty nice of Roman."

"We all have our reasons," Jane said on a tangent and sighed smoke.

"Move it, ladies." I mounted the first stair. "Gotta go beat him up harder now that I'm sober."


"Carla!" I returned her bug eyed look.

"I hope he's not kidding. I've been bored all day!" Joyce laughed.

"I don't know anymore," Carla frowned.

I bent down and kissed her deeply. She wrenched her mouth away from mine.

"You shouldn't know," I said. Then I headed into the house just in time to catch Rick heading down the stairs. He froze like a rabbit hearing someone cock a sawed off shotgun.

"Come here so I could really kick your ass!"

"What? I thought you said you forgave me!" he cried, trying to limp back up the stairs.

"C'mere," I bullcharged up there after him. He yelped a laugh as I tackled him down in the hallway by the knees and fake punched him.

"A-ah! Stop! Roman!" Rick squealed a high pitched laugh.

Carla was on the landing already yelling like it was New Years': "Roman! Get off him right now!"

Rick sat up. "Aw, Carlotta, it's okay. He's not going to beat me up again. I deserved it anyway."

"No, you didn't. No one deserves to get beat up. Not for any reason, not for any person."

Rick and I exchanged glances and reveled in the extreme irony.

"Leave it alone, Rick. Let her live in her dream world," I said and walked away. I started packing.

Roger packed some of that world chicken. I brought along my mystery box and kept it in the front seat. In the shed outside, built by my uncle (the condom uncle-I'll never know where those went), I spent time with Jane. She had a cigarette in her hand even with her arms wrapped around my neck. Her back was up against the splintered wood. I dropped one of her legs and wrapped my arm around her shoulders to shield her from the wall.

"I got you," I said with a huff.

"Thank you-oh, God-"

"You okay?" I asked, half-aware.

"Yeah," she panted.

Everyone was in the house, running around, and I felt bad for agreeing to come here with her, where it smelled like mold and rust and old grass. Her cherry-flavored cigarette smoke warped my notion of smell, along with her body spray and her hair, and I felt even more bad for allowing to do it in the shed.

"We could go somewhere else."

"I'm fine," she said, and let out a sharp moan. She dropped her cigarette on the ground; we picked up momentum.

When we were finished, I zipped up my pants and couldn't look at her straight. I picked up and handed her her still-lit cigarette.

She took a drag off of it. "Were you okay out there over the weekend, Roman?"

"Yeah," I said. I also wanted to say thank you, but I didn't want to explain myself to her and break into a long emotional discussion. Instead, I took a mental snapshot of her, standing in the filtered light of that tiny shed window, wisps of smoke rising from her mouth in an ephemeral sort of way, her reverent smile as she plucked her underwear off the floor and stuffed it in her skirt pocket.

I just had to kiss her again. She looked more calm, like she had thought something through or made a big decision. Whatever it was, it made her look and feel so fucking good that I might have done it with her again.

She planted a smiling kiss on my lips that lingered.

My mouth buzzed.

She left the shed without saying anything else.

I stayed in there to get a grip. Of my penis, I mean. I still needed to blow the load.

Winston hopped into the car, waving good bye to Joyce ex Machina at the mall while she held the three legged dog in her arms. She was going to buy good old Football a leash, a collar, a dish, dog food. I wanted to tell her to get rid of that thing, and I also wanted to tell Saraswati that I was leaving for a bit, but I decided to save it. I had a brief and selfish thought of dying while I was on the road trip; a really good death like falling into the Grand Canyon or getting hit by a big rig.

I sat shotgun with Roger driving and Rick, Winston, and Carla in the back.

"So, where're we really headed? I told my mom we were visiting the first Methodist Church founded in San Francisco."

Roger laughed and craned his neck to look at Winston in his rear view mirror: "We're heading to Oakland."

"Oakland? Do you want us to get shot?" Carla leaned against the driver's seat and grabbed it like a fierce koala: "We are so gonna die."

Roger smiled.

I had my box in my lap. I drummed on it with my fingers.

"Well, first, I'm heading to Arizona. Then I'm heading to S.F."

"Something important there?" Rick asked.

"No, I just want to see one of the seven natural wonders of the world-the Grand Canyon." He entered the freeway and practically tripled his speed. "I've been the world over and I still haven't seen the sites closest to home. How unfair is that?"

"I should've got more clothes," Carla muttered.

Winston strapped on his seat belt. "You dying of cancer, Rog'?"

"I'm not that lucky."

I laughed.

"So. Roman. Where'd you stay for the past few days?"

"Sharon's, John Wayne."

"Virtually no one knows where she lives," Rick said.

Roger smiled at me.

When we got to the Four Corners, way the hell away from the Grand Canyon, Rick and I popped open beers. I sat closest to New Mexico, and he, California. We were a little high, but we were doing alright. Winston got out his laptop to check his e-mails. Carla watched me.

I sobered up and started reading my letters again.

I could hear Roger whistling even from the restroom.

I paced around, the crunch of sand and gravel beneath me, box under arm, letter in my hand. I read in waning, red-orange-purple light about the gypsies in Italy. How they'll throw their babies at you so you'll drop your bags. I smiled.

"What're you reading?" she asked.


"From who?" she asked.

"An old friend," I said.

Rick looked up at me and smiled.

"Fuck you," I laughed.

Carla looked from me to him, then back to me. "Fine! I don't care." She stomped back to the car.

Roger got out, still whistling. "I was gonna set up the barbeque here and make some more chicken. I got some at that town market a while back and this really awesome cooler. You guys hungry again?"

"Naw. Drive on," I said.

"I'm gonna get hungry pretty soon," Winston said, not looking up from the screen. "... gotta charge the lappie."

"Well, we'll eat later then. Isn't the sky great, Roman?"

"It sure is, John Wayne. Sickass beautiful."

He tussled my hair; Rick stood with his arm extended so he could see the dream catcher he just bought blow in the sandy gusts. He chuckled a little, still high and happy.

I read in the car about the fuckface from Florence. He was as tall as a midget and talked like a dumbass. No, I'm just kidding. Sharon'd never say something like that. Sharon said he was "interesting." She spoke English and Spanish and he only spoke Italian, so communicating with him was like talking to dolphins. He visited her three days in a row before he whisked her off to Austria, whispering sweet Italian nothings (fuckbag) in her ear. He showed her around, leading her by the hand into shops where she could run her hand through chimes or on the streets to admire Austrian architecture. Took pictures of her on his Nikita camera.

And then he tried to sell her to a nice Austrian man.

Sharon realized what was happening, and tried to explain herself: "I'm a tourist-I didn't... offer any services."

"What?" the Austrian man yelled in English. "Donnie, Donnie, Donnie, why didn't you tell me?"

Donnie shrugged. "Sorry about that."

Sharon laughed. "So you could speak English all along!"

... Leave it up to her to not slap the hell out of some guy for trying to sell her into S&M prostitution.

I was awestruck by what I read. I tossed my head back and sighed. Sharon, I thought. You're so...

I turned abruptly and looked in the side view mirror. Rick was fast asleep. So was Winston. Carla was looking out the window.

Roger parked at the next rest stop and took a nap with the radio quietly buzzing static. I got out of the car and stretched. Five in the morning was a good hour. I took off my shirt and hung it around my neck.

Carla stood beside me. "... It's cold."

"The air's alright," I said. "Get back in the car."

"Roman," she sniffled.

I turned. She wasn't crying, which was good. "Yeah?"

"I-I'm scared of you."

"That's alright. I understand-"

"Ugh! You stupid jerk!" She pushed me away and got back into the car, slamming the door.

I heard Winston say in his bright and cheery way, "Whoa, are we there yet?"

The road trip ensued.

Roger was taking his sweetass time. I could tell. Because instead of driving until he saw the Canyon, we visited The Corners, stopped in random towns, parked at rests stops and slept in the Celica, barbequed twice already, and now we were at a Travel Lodge Inn for the night on his money.

Him and I sat in the pool, looking up at something neither of us had the privilege of seeing in L.A.: stars. Stars really suck. They're boring to look at, except when you're feeling needy and empty-headed. Then they mean everything for some reason.

Winston was chatting with Joyce ex Machina on the Net, and Rick and Carla were gone.

"So, John Wayne. Why are we taking our sweetass time seeing the Grand Canyon and shit? Wouldn't it have been better to see it on the way back?"

"I never told you the reason for the S.F. visit, did I."

"I never asked."

"Dildo," Roger said, and he swam around for a bit before coming back. "Too much damn chlorine in here. Sucks."

"And kid piss," I said.

"Roman, I swear, if you piss in the pool, I'll-"

I laughed.

"You bitch," he laughed too, and tried to push me underwater.

"What, what," I faked a lunge.

He let me go and pushed off of me, pedaling backward. "My eyes are burning."

"Are we gonna see her?"

"Who?" He blinked a few times and sniffed.

"The girl and her baby."

"He's old now. And yeah, we're gonna see her."

"So this road trip's really a booty call," I said.

"Booty call, geez," Roger smiled and propped his arms on the edge of the pool. "Her dad-the boxer? Left her a lot of money. And then she gave it to me."

"She did?"

"Yeah. Enough to last for life. I know I should still work while I can-"

"Why did she do that?" I cut in.

"Ah. I don't know..." He looked up at the sky, but his tone sounded like he knew but he'd rather not say.

"Why did you guys split? Didn't want to take care of the kid?" I asked.

Roger swam around for a bit, saying, "I dunno" from the far end of the pool.

I heard feet flip flop, flip, flop beside me, and a hugeass splash spritzed water into my eyes. "Bitch!" I yelled.

Rick laughed and paddled after Roger. He was still wearing a torso brace.

Carla squatted by me. "Roman, can I speak to you up at the room?"

"No," I said.

"Roman, please."

I got out, wrapping a towel around me as I took my trunks off. I wrung them dry and hung them over a shoulder. "Hey, I'll be right back, you guys. Gotta act sensitive."

"Good luck," Winston said absently and typed away.

I ducked under the shower for a bit when we got up to the room. I didn't know where all the sand and gravel came from, but it was swirling down the drain like a down-scaled model of asteroids in space. I watched it without really thinking, even shampooed my hair without thinking. I avoided my reflection altogether and stepped out of the bathroom.

Carla was sitting on one of the beds, looking at her feet.

I let out a brief, meaningless chuckle.

She upturned her eyes: "What?"

"That's what I'd like to know," I said. "You wanna talk? Then let's talk." I walked up to her, shaking out my hair.

She didn't cower away. Instead, she stood up and frowned directly into my eyes. It was that insolence, the dark, opaque gloss her eyes had that intrigued me.

A corner of my mouth tugged into a smile.

She slowly wrapped her arms around me and kissed me on the lips.

"I thought you wanted to talk," I said in her face, knowing my mouth smelled like beer, chicken, and kush.

"I am talking," she said and kissed me again, except this time she leaned back, meaning to pull me onto the bed with her. I bent in. She reached into my towel and stroked me.

"What is this?" I asked.

"I'm apologizing."

"What the hell for?" I pulled her hand out. "What're you doing?"

"Rick told me," she heaved.

"Told you what," I demanded.

"About what Michael and his friends did to you."

I ducked away from her. "Aw, not this again."

She propped herself up on her elbows and clapped her knees shut. "Why didn't you tell me?"

"It was none of your business," I said, and it came out mean.

"But he's my ex!"

"Alright," I said, with a crazy smile and wide eyes. "What did you want me to do? Call you up? Make you feel responsible? Have you cry and annoy the hell out of me?"

She set her jaw.

"I hate this crap," I said, putting on my boxers and slinging the towel at the other bed. "I mean, seriously. If I called, you would've thought I was accusing you or something anyway and you know it."

"Roman," she said, seething.

"Don't 'Roman' me. Why did you have to bring it up? It already happened. It's over. It's done." I closed the curtains and took my towel, rubbing my head with it. "Shit. Seriously."

"I was trying to apologize, okay?" she raised her voice.

"How? By spreading your legs for me? The hell is wrong with you!"

"Fuck you," Carla spat.

"Why, huh? Was it your fault? Did you beat me with a bat and spit on my face while I was down? Did you kick dust at me and shatter my ribs? Nearly break my back?"

"I'm sorry!" she yelled.

I laughed bitterly. "You don't get it. You're making something out of nothing."

"So, it was nothing?" She stood up.

It clicked.

"Live in your dream world," I said. "Keep on doing it. Go ahead. Add sugar and make me look chivalrous if you want-" I pointed two fingers at her "-but don't you fucking dare apologize when you don't mean it, especially when you weren't there because I won't have any of it. None at all."

"But I do mean it."

And she burst into tears.

"Goddamnit," I slammed the top of the TV.

She jumped.

I stormed toward the door, but she stumbled away from the bed and snatched my arm.

"Roman, wait-wait-wait-please-"

"Let go of me. Let go," I said as I tried to wrench myself out of her grip, but she held on tight. I was afraid I might hurt her so I just stopped.

She fell to her knees, holding my arm to her face, sobbing all over the back of my hand.

"Stop overreacting," I yelled.

"Roman, I love you," her voice pitched, "why are you doing this?"

"You're asking me?" I laughed. "What is this, huh? What do you want me to do?"

She sniffled. She didn't say anything.

"Stop. Stop crying, Carla."

She tried to stop, but she burst into a new fit of tears, rubbing her cheek against my hand in this weird, fucked up way.

I knelt down beside her. "Carla. You have to stop. I hate this. You already know I do."

"I know," her bottom lip shook. "I just, I felt so terrible saying you were like Michael, and then Rick told me what happened-I don't know, Roman. I don't know how to do this, I'm just-" she swallowed. "I just..."

I tried to look into her eyes, but she wouldn't let me. "... You said you loved me."

"I did," she nodded, her eyes falling into her lap. Snot ran down her nose.

"You just said 'Roman, I love you' just two seconds ago."

"I do not sound like that!" she laughed but I could also tell she was frustrated. "But I know I said it."

"That's all, then. You don't have to apologize. You don't have to say any more."

She looked up at me.

I pulled away and rested my forearms on my knee caps, leaning my head back against the door. "Man, with you acting dramatic all the time, I don't think I could take it anymore."

She laughed and flung herself at me, planting her lips on mine. The back of my head smacked the door.

"Ow," I groaned into her mouth.

She laughed and pulled me back to the bed, back on top of her.

I guess I really am a sucker for sweet talk, especially the old three-word armageddon. While I was screwing her, I said: "Now that I know you love me, I'm gonna run like hell."

She laughed and moaned at the same time. "I know you're not kidding."

I screwed her with the lights on, fondling her small breasts, touching her short hair, her lips, kissing them. And somewhere in between doing her butt and getting a masterful blowjob, I thought that maybe Roger ran away because Winona said she loved him as much as she loved her own son. Love for your kid is deep. Any guy who knows that would flip if a single mom told him she loved him, because she's not fooling around.

We were getting progressively closer to the Grand Canyon when the song "Wicked Games" by Chris Isaak started playing, and I swear that it's one of the best songs ever. That guitar gets me so hard I feel like I could rape the world. It's one of the only songs Roger'll sing along to. I don't want to sound gay or anything, but I really think it's his song, like he identifies with it. It retains a sense of mystery and sexual vibroso, you could listen to it when you're depressed, winding down, sitting and thinking, preparing to rob a bank, painting your toes red, in Church or at a funeral, maybe even in line while you buy a pack of condoms, and this guy's voice and his guitar will rock you right into that steady oblivion between thought and action.

I slumped into my seat as Roger turned it up. He started singing along and tapping the steering wheel:

"... the world was on fire
no one could save me but you
Strange what desire
will make foolish people do

Winston was sacked out from being on the Net all night, Carla was eating a Cliff bar, and Rick was scanning through Sharon's letters. I just wanted everyone to stop what they were doing to listen to this fucking song, to fall into the same mental thread as me, and think of someone they really liked or wanted, think of them doing a dance of desire in an odd and alluring way that couldn't be accomplished in real life without the aid of good music, think of them doing this dance at a translucent time of night that barely needs lights, with a face lit up, the glint of a smile, to revel in the feeling of sitting on the edge of sexual desire and frustration.

I fell into a half sleep and thought about my four days of bliss, how it could've been five, six, even three hundred days longer.

The car stopped. I woke up and realized we were at a gas station. I stepped out into the hot sun with my shirt clinging to my sweaty back and a sick feeling in my mouth. My jeans felt tight and my balls were chafing, so I walked toward the store bow-legged. I went in and got Carla a few more Cliff bars. I respected that she was doing the diet thing and sticking to it, but at the same time, I thought it was pointless.

"Heya, John Wayne!" I called after him before he went to go pump gas.


"Doritos or Lays?"

"Both," he smiled and left. A hot wind swept into the store.

The guy at the counter was sitting on his stool looking lonely, casual, and oblivious.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey." He looked ahead of him. "That'll be all?"

"Also a pack of cigs-yeah, those."

He handed me the Captain Jack brand and I got all my money out of my jean pocket in wads. "Hey," I said. "Smoke outside with me."

"I'm not gay," he said as he straightened out the bills and counted my money.

"Alright, then, I won't try to stick you, just smoke outside with me. You look pissed off and alone."

"Yeah," Gus laughed. His iron-on patch said "Gustavo."

We went outside.

"Man, this place is shitty," Gus said with a cig between his teeth.

"Tourists come here just to bake," I said.

"They're probably idiots from L.A."

"Oh, yeah? I'm from Canada," I lied.

"You don't look like you're Canadian. You look like you're from here or the Midwest, but you don't talk like it."

"Ah," I said, taking a long drag. "Are you from the Midwest?"

"Yeah. The wife's back there," he said dryly.

"What're you doing in a gas station in Arizona with your wife in the Midwest?" I asked.

"Divorced," he snorted smoke through his nostrils.

"Was she good lookin'?"

"Not really, no."

"She a good cook?"


"... It makes sense, then."

He laughed. "Naw," he drawled. "I just didn't have enough money to keep her. She's the funniest girl alive, a book reader, too. Wanted to be an actress but she doesn't got the face or the voice projection for actin'. She's a damn good woman though."

"That's alright," I said.

"You with those guys?" he pointed at the Mexican bikers.

"Naw," I said. "I'm with that Celica over there."

Carla opened the door: "Hurry up, Roman, we're going!"

"See you, Gus'." I stomped out my cig.

"Call me Mark. Thanks for the cig, Roman."

"Call me Anthony," I said. "And you're welcome." I saluted and took off.

It's not that talking to everyone in the whole world will somehow give you direction in Life. But the more you have to feel sad about, the harder it is to lie and insult someone's intelligence. And I like the challenge.

The Grand Canyon was what it was. A hugeass red gorge. No, it was amazing, but only in that senseless way because it's so fucking big. You're looking at it, but you're not sure how to take it in so you just sit there and stare somewhere and hope you're doing the visit justice. If you're a stupidass, you'll buy a shirt that says you were here, because you're probably feeling guilty that you couldn't grasp Nature's beauty and wonder and whatever. I just tried to imagine it filled with water, and then I tried to imagine it filled with Louisiana hot sauce, and that's what got me going. Winston took pictures on his digital camera and got me to stand there shirtless holding Carla in a dramatic dip like she was already dead like on those shirts you see of those big Aztec buff dudes with war paint, feathers, scars all over, and pecks, holding a virgin sacrifice in mid-orgasm.

"This is so racist," Winston guffawed at the pictures.

Carla stood on her tip-toes. "Let me see!"

"Roman's dad was Geronimo in Las Vegas. He got paid twenty dollars an hour to walk around and scare the hell out of white tourists," Roger looked straight ahead.

"My dad worked in Vegas?" I asked.

"Look, a hawk!" Carla pointed. "It's so pretty."

"There's another one," Rick said.

"Yep," Roger said, and I didn't know whether he was saying that to my question or to the hawks.

"All my pictures of that hawk over there are blurry. I'm gonna delete them," Winston muttered.

"Naw, keep 'em," I said. "If you get a perfect still shot of a hawk in mid-air, then he's not flying fast enough."

Winston laughed: "I'll keep them then."

"... I should've rented a van so the other girls could come along," Roger thought out loud.

It then occurred to me that mom must've been fifteen when she had Roger, which started to cause a train wreck in my brain. Where was he when she was living in her car? ... also, he looked a lot like me, like we could've had the same father. The train of thought running through my head burst into flames, so I just stopped worrying about the truth and watched the hawks in the sky, their wings out, gliding and spiraling deep down into the canyon.

Something about it was sad but wholesome. But I don't think of those things.

On the way to S.F., I met a lot more lonely gas station clerks, and all of them had that same general attitude, like they all lived at the gas station, were one with the gas station, and resonated the whole I'm-not-gonna-bother-because-once-you-finish-pumping-your-unleaded-gas-you're-gone look. But I smoked with all of them anyway, caught old Carla having sex with Rick behind a bathroom rest stop, searched for engagement rings online with Winston, sat around while Roger played his guitar. All the songs he knew were taught to him by broken-hearted guys all over the world.

We finally made it to Oakland and found Winona's place, an old, out-of-place-looking Victorian house with one broken window duct-taped and a blooming yard full of plants I've never seen. Winston freaked because Roger was trying to park on a steep hill, and he told Roger it would be bad for the Celica, so Roger parked a billion miles away from her place and we walked. On the way, Roger threw up on the sidewalk, and all of us crowded around him and patted him on the back.

A homeless black guy with rainbow dreads tied up high on his head pushing a grocery cart wheeled by saying: "Stay in schoo', stay in schooooo'!"

Roger shook his head as he keeled over, hands on knees, hair in his eyes. He thought of turning back but we pushed him on. When we finally made it to her place, we found out she wasn't even home.

"You didn't call her and tell her you were coming?" Rick asked.

"I told her I was gonna arrive here two weeks ago."

"Aw, geez," I said.

Winston clapped Roger's shoulder.

"She told me where the spare key was, but I don't want to go in."

Carla sighed and looked under the door mat. She unlocked the door. "Get inside."

Winston laughed and clapped Roger some more: "Suck it up, Rog'."

"Shit," Roger muttered. "Shouldn't've taken any of you along."

Carla frowned. "Just get in."

Everyone sat in the living room while I went into the kitchen and checked the fridge.

"More chicken," I said thoughtfully.

"Roman. Get the hell out of there! That's rude!" Roger barked. He probably felt like shit.

"Calm down, John Wayne." I used the microwave and watched the chicken slowly spin around. I took it out while the plate was still hot enough to singe my fingertips, and I started eating. It hit the spot. Bangladesh was in it. So was Kenya, Dublin, St. Louis, New Mexico, the Arctic. I groaned loud like a dying rhino and ate some more, and said with a full mouth, "Now this girl knows how to cook. This girl really knows how to cook!"

It was a few hours before Winona even came. She had a bunch of groceries looped in her hands as she waddled in through the open door. "Shelly! I have-oh my god!"

"Hi!" we all said except for Roger.

He shot off the couch like a fire cracker lit his ass and started helping her with the groceries.

Winona was the most beautiful woman I've ever seen. I smiled in a way that let her know I was checking her out.

"Roger-I didn't think you'd come," her smile lit the place.

Another hot woman came down the stairs in a guy's shirt. "Hi, Noni-who're these people?"

"Holy shit," I said. "You're Roger's hot lesbian friend!"

Winona laughed. "I take it you're Roman."

"That would be me, Ma'am."

She put her purse down on the coffee table. "I'm not his hot lesbian friend, Roman. I'm your brother's wife."

Winston's jaw dropped.

Carla looked at Roger.

Rick gripped his chair.

"Shit," I said.

Roger scratched his head. "It was a legal thing."

"Shit," I said again.

"Shelly, get out the chicken so I could give them something to eat while I cook."

Roger leered at me. "This dildo ate it all."

Shelly and Winona laughed. Another guy came in through the back door in a cowboy hat and started talking to Shelly.

Winona took this time to come up to Roger and wrap her arms around him. "I'm so glad you came," she whispered intimately as she smiled. "I'm even happier that you brought company, you sweet stranger."

Roger gently plucked her arms off of him and said, "Hold on. I think I'm going to be sick." He then ran outside to throw up.

Winona smiled. "He gets that way when he hasn't seen me in a while."

"Where's the runt?" I asked.

"Your brother's son is at school."

I dropped my mouth and looked at the others.

There was a lot of explaining to do, but Roger met Winona waaaay before Vera Cruz. He actually met her close to home while she was visiting relatives. He saw her come out of a house in her pretty sundress and just had to talk to her. They exchanged information, had one night together, and then she left. He didn't know she was pregnant and neither did she. She also thought later on that the kid must've been someone else's.

Roger spent the better part of his young adult years working and being a sour grape, hosting parties, taking care of me and Rick and things around the house until he mustered up the nerve and enough money to see her. She had told him that she lived in Vera Cruz and thought it would be nice if he visited one day. It took him a few years, but he managed. He flew over there and couldn't find her, but when she found him, it was Love. Pretending that they were just meeting each other for the first time wasn't hard. It was magic and clockwork.

He didn't mention a lot, but I don't blame him. Winona was the best kept secret next to Tommy's Chili, KFC's Original Recipe, the Mason Underground.

Roger and Winona traveled everywhere with their son. They acted like they were married, so eventually they did get married in Morocco. Then Tio Bom-bom found the will of Winona's late father. There was a whole legal issue with the people of Vera Cruz trying to legitimize that Winona was indeed the love child of the famous boxer, and there were other issues, too. A period of separation took place. Roger came home with the boxer's money, sweating through check points and Customs; it was in the will that all the boxer's money would go to his only child, or his only child's spouse, which was jeopardized by the nature of the accusations against Winona made by other people claiming to be the boxer's love children.

Roger kept tabs on the money, siphoning in a little into the bank at a time, and he paid for his wife and child's necessities while Winona was battling for legitimacy and struggling against officials to deny any knowledge of her uncle's alleged shadow canal, even more suspicion generated by another living will written by her uncle that she be the heiress to more blood money.

Eventually, everything smoothed out, and Roger was invited to come back, at the expense of being a target of several governments' scrutiny alongside his wife. But here he was, here we were, eating her mind-blowing world food and singing songs on her piano.

"It's a messed up world," Winston told me that night before we went to sleep.

I thought about Roger throwing up on the sidewalk on the way to Winona's place, and how maybe at this very moment he was touching his wife's legs and kissing her lips, and I thought about the things he kept to himself for so long, the solitude of it, the things we all keep to ourselves, how we hoard our hurt, nurse our moods, brood, procrastinate, throw our lives away. If I were to break him open, if I would have someone break me open, would all that horrible shit I see or someone else sees make sense?

None of it ever does, not even if you have a book in front of you that helps you get meaning out of it. On the whole, it's just a sick waste of time trying.

It really doesn't make sense for me to agree with Winston though when I think that everything's so fucking good and ugly and determined and alive. So I lay my head back, and I stare at the ceiling, and just before we drift off, Winston and I, I say:

"Naw. The world's pretty alright."

And I sleep easy because all of the fucking earth is in my big intestine, so easy to swallow and so warm going down, because it tasted so good swishing around in my mouth.