The End of the Century, 2015

by Lis Anna Langston

     Stuart was my favorite roommate. Once he discovered gin, our apartment was a revolving door of busted romantic encounters. In the summer of 1999, when Stuart’s band went on hiatus, rumors circulated wildly that the band had broken up and things went a little crazy.

This was during the brown rice, miso, P.J. Harvey phase of my life: the phase where I started eating nut butter and organic rice cakes. I’d decided chasing guys, swilling tequila and staying out all night were not good hobbies. I turned my attention to a search for meaning. As luck would have it, there was a school for enlightenment in Central Florida. Because pretension knows no limits, the school was built in the style of a fancy, grownup treehouse and desperately overpriced. I signed up immediately. On the evenings when I didn’t have to work part-time at VideoXpress, I meditated to the deep, wholesome sounds of Deepak’s voice. Stuart had an adventurous spirit and saw this as an opportunity to expand his social life. He borrowed my car and drove straight to the nearest gay bar. That’s how he found Floyd.

Floyd was a mess. He’d spent the last five years living with an ex-Menudo band member on South Beach. Ex-Menudo was a lush—and Floyd had become one too. Originally from Indiana, Floyd had spent the last few years slung-up in a South Beach condo watching his lover, the ex-Menudo, parade around in hot-pink daisy-dukes and cry because he couldn’t get his manager to book him any gigs. Here was proof that boy bands destroy lives.

Floyd told me and Stuart everything about his former life, right down to the size of Ex-Menudo’s cock. Its dimensions impressed me tremendously, but not Stuart. For gay men, size matters and Stuart didn’t want to call attention to his shortcomings.  Floyd was nice in an aw-shucks, homegrown, pass-the-strawberry-jam kind of way. I just stared at his broad shoulders, dirty blonde hair and sapphire baby blues and thought he was mercilessly hot. So when I found him in the kitchen rummaging through my hippie provisions, I explained the health benefits of probiotics and bee pollen instead of telling him off.

“My Ex was a health food nut, too,” Floyd informed me.

I decided that if I ever met ex-Menudo I might like him, even though he added Vodka to his smoothies and shaved his balls.

Three days later, Floyd made a German chocolate cake with honey and whole grain flour to pander to my hippie, crystal-clutching diet. It made me want to marry him. Turns out, his Me-Maw on his mom’s side was a baker. My Indiana Vestal Virgin. I wanted to tell him how hot he’d look driving a tractor.

Later that night, Stuart dragged in from B-Side Records with an armload of pre-releases, which he handed out like candy. Then he and Stuart went out. That was fine with me. I had Deepak and German Chocolate cake.

The phone rang in the middle of the night. I pulled my pillow over my head and went back to sleep. The next morning I found Floyd and Stuart hunched over the breakfast bar, frowning while they listened to a message.

“What’s up?” I asked casually, sprinkling bee pollen on my yogurt.

“My Ex says he’s going to throw all my stuff out on the street if I don’t drive back this weekend and get it.” Floyd said.

I shrugged, turned the stereo on. I listened to Madonna bounce and tumble out of the speakers.

“He says he’ll throw everything out the window.”

Stuart’s lips pinched together. “Can’t he wait? I do not like this.”

“I bet Floyd is worried about his Fatboy Slim collection.” I smirked.

Stuart’s intuition was perfect. Floyd left driving a U-Haul but did not return that night. Stuart paced the kitchen while I made brown rice and seaweed for my school potluck.

“Should I call?” he asked.

“He’s a grown man,” I said.

He stomped off to his room and turned on Coldplay—loud—the live album.

Not a good sign.

Right about the time Stuart was about to have a nervous breakdown; Floyd zipped into the parking lot with a truck full of prissy, Little Bo Peep furniture. I was dead center in the living room, poised in Downward Facing Dog, when the sliding glass door opened.  A glowing, bronzed Floyd smiled at my ass and said, “That’s a money shot, Adeline.” Then he sweet-talked me into helping him upload.

“What’s with all of the glass knobs and curly cues?” I asked, letting my fingers slide along the grooves in the dresser.

Floyd shrugged. “I picked it up for cheap after it was used for a set piece.”

Stuart didn’t care. His Indiana honey-pie was back in central Florida with him.

I joined a Yoga Studio. The teacher was a bossy, taut bitch who treated deep breathing like a form of tyranny.

Around then, the one person we had on evening shift at VideoXpress quit. It worked out because I was on break from the school of enlightenment. They called it a fortnight of mindfulness. Floyd was tired of waiting for everyone to get off work and offered to keep me company.

I was logging in a stack of new titles when Floyd cracked open a mini-bottle and poured it into his Pepsi can. “Being bad can be especially good,” He said, adopting a preacher’s tone. Then he wandered off to browse.

Half an hour later, after he’d popped some fresh popcorn, he pulled up a chair in front of the big screen TV and popped in Terminator.

“I’m only watching French New Wave this week.” I said.

Floyd glanced over his shoulder at me. “Sorry, doll.”

He prowled the aisles for four minutes then returned and popped in The Professional. Luc Besson—close enough. Later, after the store had cleared out, I sat down next to Floyd and pretended to watch The Usual Suspects. But really I was sneaking glances at him, thinking how hot he’d look tossing bales of hay out of the back of a pick up.

He leaned over and whispered, “I could lock the door, if you like.”

I straightened up in my chair too quickly and tried to sound innocent. “Why?”

He jerked a thumb toward the clock. “Because you closed fifteen minutes ago.”

I slid back down in my chair, trying to be casual. “Oh, yeah. Okay.”

At closing I had to count down the drawer and the adult video titles in the back. “The pornos,” I wailed.

“Come again?”

“Three of them are missing.” Three empty cases had been stuffed back on the shelves. “I have to find these or pay for them if they come up missing on my shift.”

Floyd picked up the plain black cases and studied each one. “Why don’t they have covers?”

“It’s not allowed. We’re not licensed or zoned to display adult entertainment. We only rent the titles.”

Floyd looked at the titles on the spines. “Here,” he said, “you count down the drawer and I’ll see if I can find these.”

“Really?”

“Yes, some pervert probably misplaced them,” he winked.

Ten minutes later he returned with pep in his step. “Done. I found them and put them back in the cases.”

“Really?”

“Yes, Adeline, really.”

I shoulda checked.

But I didn’t.

So there’s that.

Everything was fine until Floyd borrowed my car to go grocery shopping. Stuart appeared at my bedroom door, looking grim. “Have you noticed Floyd acting strange?”

“I’ve noticed you acting strange.”

He ignored my comment. “He’s been locking things up in a briefcase.”

“Consider this, maybe he’s just happy to have a briefcase. Before he drove back to Miami he had nothing.”

“He’s humming this weird song lately. I can’t place it.”

“He is a unique and special snowflake.”

Stuart snorted and walked off. I followed him into his bedroom. Floyd was a slob. His stuff was everywhere. The room was crammed with furniture, CD racks, and piles of clothes in the middle of a single path that led around the room. Stuart jerked open one of the Little Bo Peep dresser drawers and started rummaging around.

“That’s a violation of privacy,” I said, stepping closer so I could peer over his shoulder.

He turned around just so I could see him roll his eyes. Then he snatched a briefcase out from behind the dresser and thrust it at me.

“You’re good at puzzles, Adeline.”

“Yeah, when I was in second grade.”

I sat down on the bed and tried several combinations, no luck. I thought about Floyd and how he really wasn’t the smartest man on the planet. “What if it’s a generic combination?”

“Like what—1-2-3? Even Floyd isn’t that stupid.”

I don’t know.

I rolled the numbers into place. 1, 2, 3.

Click. Click.

The simplicity of it stunned me. The briefcase was empty except for three black VHS tapes with the labels scratched off.  “I think these are the tapes that were missing from work.”

“Why would Floyd steal pornos?”

“To—watch?” I ventured.

That kicked him into gear. The fact that I might have to pony-up a ton of cash to pay for missing videos did nothing for Stuart, but the thought of competition was unbearable. He snatched up the tapes, marched into the living room and jammed one into the VHS player.

A scene flashed onto the screen, flickered and adjusted. There was a barn with hay tossed on the ground, blue sky beyond the big wooden doors—and Floyd standing there with a shovel in his hand.

Stuart squealed. “Oh my God.”

Apparently I wasn’t the only one who thought Floyd would look hot on a tractor.

There he was, glistening with sweat, the top button of his jeans undone. Stuart and I were both breathless. Then the most horrible thing in the world happened.

A girl walked into the barn.

Huh?

Stuart moved closer to the screen like he was seeing things. I had no idea what to do. It was like watching a train wreck. There was bad flirting, the old, I’m lost, routine, then clothes fell to the ground and they were doing it.

Ramming his finger against the TV screen, Stuart yelled, “That’s a girl. A girl. A girl. That cannot be a girl!” He threw the other tapes on the floor.

Denial is a funny thing. “It’s definitely a girl,” I said.

“This has to be a fluke. Put the next one in.”

Stuart reached for the tapes but I snatched them up quick and squeezed them tight. “Forget about them.”

Please Adeline, I’m having an Aerosmith moment.”

That made it serious. “Shit, hold on.” I jammed the second tape into the player. It was already queued to the middle of the tape. The scene was full stride.

“Don’t look,” I said quickly.

“Why?”

“It’s Floyd and two girls.”

“What?” Stuart shouldered me aside and gawked at the tangled, naked bodies on the screen. Then he grabbed his head and screamed. “Why is this happening to me?”

“I told you not to look.”

Gross, there’s two of them.”

“Yes, I mentioned that.”

The three people in the video rolled around on Little Bo Peep furniture with lots of curly cues. I didn’t have to tell Stuart his bedroom was filled with furniture from a porn set. He knew it. Together our eyes fell on the last tape in my hands.

Stuart grabbed my arm. “Get the gin.”

“It’s gonna have to be a Stoli moment.”

Tape number three. The horrifying mystery.

I was at the refrigerator, hand gripping the bottle of Stoli, when I heard the front door open. The look on Stuart’s face confirmed my fear.

“Hola, I’ve returned with provisions,” Floyd yelled.

I wedged the tapes into the tiny space between the refrigerator and the wall.

“Hi,” Stuart screeched. Then he cleared his throat and said in a more manly way, “How are you?”

Floyd stopped in the hallway. “What are you doing?”

Violating your privacy.

Stuart went in for the quick save. “We were just about to make vodka martinis.”

“Without me?” Floyd inquired.

“Sorry,” Stuart said, channeling his guilt. “I’ll help you bring in the groceries.”

A second after they walked out, I ran full-speed to their bedroom, dropped the tapes into the briefcase, slammed it shut, and shoved the case behind the dresser. Still wondering what was on tape number three, I smacked right into the closet door on my way out. A searing pain shot through my nostrils. I held my nose and stumbled into the hall.

Exactly three seconds later Floyd and Stuart walked in carrying grocery bags.

Floyd’s brow furrowed when he saw me. “Are you okay, Adeline?”

“Who me?” I screeched. “Yes, why?”

“Your cheeks are flushed, your hair is a mess and you’re holding your nose.”

I pulled my hand away from my face to touch my hair.

Floyd’s jaw dropped. “You’re bleeding.”

I reached for my nose again. Stuart glared at me.

The phone rang. All three of us looked at each other. Floyd picked up the phone as I grabbed a towel and applied it to my nose. “Hello?…Yeah, it’s for you, Adeline.”

Stuart went into his bedroom and slammed the door.

I picked up the phone and said hello, which made my nose burn.

It was my boss, Conner. “We just got robbed,” he bellowed. “I need you to come in.”

My whole body slumped forward. “What?”

“I’ve got to go down to the police station and deal with this crap so you have to cover for me.” Conner hung up without saying goodbye. He wasn’t really a goodbye kind of guy.

I hung up the phone and turned around. Floyd was in the kitchen setting bags of groceries on the counter. “I have to go into work.”

“Do you want company?”

Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads blared from Stuart’s bedroom. This was an ominous sign. Best not to leave them both there alone. “Yes.”

When I walked down the hall to get my purse and bag of crystals, Stuart flung open his bedroom door and pulled me inside. I frantically wiped the little speckles of blood off his closet door. Music blared from the speakers as Stuart whispered loudly in my ear, “Did you see his screen name?”

I nodded, “Rod Biggers.”

Stuart’s whole body shivered in a creepy way. “When you get to work, look it up in the adult movie database.”

“Stuart,” I growled, low and intense, putting emphasis on every single letter of his name.

He flopped his head to the side, sucked his lips into a duck face and huffed, “Come on, Adeline.”

“You are playing with fire.”

He put his hand on his hip. “Wouldn’t you want to know?”

I lied. “No.”

“Come on, please.”

I let him stew for a bit. Finally I said, “I’ll do it for three new albums and that Trent Reznor poster. The one where he’s wearing all black and looks like he’s about to climb on top of my naked body and kiss my hot, hungry mouth.”

“I thought you were practicing enlightenment.”

“I gave up hot guys and booze because they were getting me nowhere. I will never give up Trent Reznor.”

Stuart squeezed my fingers too hard when we shook hands and I realized there was no way to weasel out of this. Stuart really needed my help. Yes, I wanted Trent tacked to the wall at the end of my bed watching me, but I knew logging into the adult picture video database was wrong in every conceivable way.

I also realized that I had to get Floyd out of there. Nick Cave would be followed by The Clash, then The Cramps and then The Gun Club. I wanted no part of that play list. I wiped blood off of my swollen nose, grabbed Floyd and left before Ship of Fools was the tune I’d be humming for the rest of the week.

My slacker boss, Conner, tapped a pack of cigarettes against his thigh in that totally annoying way of his before he handed me a deposit bag.

“What’s this for?”

“You have to make the drop after closing. We can’t keep money in the store.”

“What difference does it make? We already got robbed.”

He rammed his finger into his skinny chest. “I got robbed, not you. No money in the store overnight.”

Jerk.

The store smelled like popcorn. Apocalypse Now played on the big screen. All in all, it was better than whatever was blasting from the speakers at home.

Floyd looked over at me. “Tonight feels a little weird.”

“Yep.”

The phone rang. I snatched it up. Stuart slurred, “He went to Miami to make more adult pictures, the skank.”

“What?”

“I’ma watch the third tape. I saws him.” Culture Club belted out the chorus, “I know you’ll miss me blind…” in the background.

“Put the bottle down.”

“Too lates,” he moaned. “Stoli go bye bye.”

“Stuart… wait.”

One short, sharp beep and he was gone.

Floyd cocked his head. “Stuart is a real drag.”

“No you don’t,” I pointed my finger in his face so quickly it actually frightened me. “You will not pick on him.”

Floyd raised an eyebrow. “That was fierce, Adeline.”

“Stop it. This is not a joke.”

I instantly forgot to be mad at him when he leaned forward so slowly and so purposely that I had to grab the counter for support. “Jokes aren’t my specialty,” he whispered. His mouth was inches from mine. His breath smelled like red hots. If I’d been meditating regularly like my book on awakening inner fire had insisted, I’d have been prepared. Instead, I closed my eyes and tried to think of something to say.

Floyd’s fingers lightly traced my cheek, up and over the fine bones of my nose. “You’ve got a black eye. It’s very sexy.”

I reached for a stack of titles to enter into the system. Instead I spilled Floyd’s diet coke. It splashed across his white tee shirt.

“Oh, God,” I wailed.

Floyd stepped back and pulled the tee over his head, revealing his perfect, eye-candy chest. It made me lightheaded.

“There are some employee tunics in the back. Hold on, I’ll get you one.”

I turned and raced to the back. Thirty seconds later, I returned with a tunic. Floyd met me in the middle of the store, stopping in front of the big screen. I handed him the tunic and was about to make a joke when he grabbed my hand. “Just say you’re sorry.”

I turned. Big mistake. Scenes from Apocalypse Now flashed across his bare chest. “For what?”

He slipped his hands onto my hips and I squirmed. “For making me take my shirt off.”

My breathing stopped. I couldn’t get enough blood to my head. I felt woozy.

“When was the last time you rode dirty, bareback hit-it and get-it?” He whispered into the groove of my neck and my knees actually went weak.

The doorbell went ding dong and I jerked my head around to see one of my regulars staring at us. “Don’t mind me,” he said smugly. “I’ll be in the back.”

Bleh. I wriggled out of Floyd’s grasp and locked eyes with him. “What was that?”

“What was what, doll?”

“That. What we just did.”

“We didn’t do anything.”

I sucked in another breath. “But we—”

“Could have? Yes, but we didn’t.”

True, we did not. Find your center, Adeline. Find it fast. Deep breath.

Floyd laid his hand against my lower back. “You’re always so in control. The perfect mindset, perfect foods at the perfect time—What’s your naughty, little secret, Adeline?”

My what?”

“Everyone has one. What’s the one indiscretion you keep to yourself?”

Floyd slipped his hand down the back of my jeans and when I felt his fingers on my ass I crashed into his chest like a shipwreck. In one perfect motion he lowered his lips to mine and I melted.

You know that kiss you’ve always wanted?

Yeah…mine was interrupted a few minutes later by a customer walking up to the counter and giving Floyd the old I think I’ve seen you on a tractor somewhere look. He said to Floyd, “You look really familiar.”

“It’s the tunic,” Floyd said, pulling it on, over his head.

The apartment was quiet at 1:48AM when we walked through the sliding glass door. The soundtrack of Stuart’s life had gone silent. In the middle of the living room floor, Floyd’s briefcase sat wide open with the three black tapes propped up next to a handwritten note that read: I know who you are. I saw what you did.

Cold shivers gripped me. Floyd looked down at the spectacle. “Do you know anything about this, Adeline?”

I shook my head.

Stuart did not return for a while. I called everyone he knew. B-Side records said he’d taken a brief leave of absence because his grandmother had died. I would have felt sorry for him except she’d been dead for four years. He finally appeared ten days before the rent was due. He sported angry, unkempt patches of facial hair and his favorite Ramones t-shirt. “I’m sorry I didn’t call,” he said, staring at the carpet.

“It’s okay.”

“Is he still here?”

“He left the night you set out the tapes.”

“Did he say anything?”

I shook my head.

And that was that.

I didn’t notice if Stuart sulked a little more than usual. He was given to melancholy sulks so it was hard to tell. I did hate listening to Sinead O’Conner sing, “There is no other Troy for me to burn…” Worse was, Nothing Compares 2 U. It played on like that for weeks.

One night, after a particularly grueling test on Chakras, I found myself thumbing aimlessly through some new releases when the name Rod Biggers popped up. I told myself I wanted to catch a glimmer of Floyd’s dreamy eyes, just for old times sake. A tiny peek. Just to make sure he was okay.

At midnight I locked the doors, popped some corn and sat down to watch the continuing adventures of Floyd. In that particular video he was a fireman, who stripped out of his soot-covered uniform to attend to a naked woman in a plush bed with animated flames surrounding them. Seeing Floyd naked again drove some ancient primal desire of mine to the surface. I watched the entire video, then walked to the back for more. In the next video he sported a park ranger uniform and stumbled upon a naked girl sunbathing. Next he was a doctor who was checking on his very hot patient. I squealed with delight. I watched him try on all kinds of identities: carnival worker, gas station attendant, chef—the guy next door. My favorite was Floyd’s police officer gig. He pulled off his sunglasses and leaned into the car, saying “I’m going to have to write you a ticket for traveling so fast through my county. I like it slow and easy.” Then they did it on the side of a dirt road.

The turn of the century loomed large. I didn’t fall in love or backpack across Europe. Instead, I bought a new wardrobe. Denim jackets and strappy camis. Stuart’s band took a vote and decided to stay together. On New Year’s Eve, during the last night of the 20th century, I went to a local bar to see Stuart perform. It was their final gig of the century and the first one they’d booked since getting back together. Unfortunately, the lead singer had gotten pleurisy and his grandma had taken him to the emergency room. I huddled with them in a cramped back room while they agonized over what to do.

The drummer was the first to make the call. “Let Adeline do it.”

“Do what?” I said.

“Sing. You know all the songs.”

After half a decade of all male music making they suddenly decided to put a girl out front. I was horrified.

“What?” I croaked.

Stuart stepped forward. “That’s right, Adeline rehearses with me at home.” He grabbed my hand and opened the door at the same time.

“But I haven’t said yes yet,” I stalled. It was true though, I’d been singing him out of a funk for months.

“You can do this Adeline.” Stuart said it so confidently it made me misty eyed. He was my favorite roommate.

Enlightenment evaded me. I couldn’t think of a single reason why I couldn’t do it. I was still working part time at the video store and going nowhere. Besides, I owed Stuart. Even if he didn’t know it, I owed him for the night that Floyd removed his tunic and made me scream.

When the blue stage light fell across my face I was stricken with fear. Trying to pull myself together I latched onto the first thought that entered my mind. I imagined taking my clothes off in front of Floyd. Stripping down bare. Surrendering right there in that dark video store with the front door locked. I imagined each song was one long striptease for Floyd. To my surprise, it worked. At the end of the first set we got a standing ovation. A single bead of sweat rolled down Stuart’s cheek as he glanced over at me and winked.

At the School for Enlightenment my instructor Indigo Rainn liked to say, “You’re only free after you surrender.” On that stage, at the end of the century, I understood that it’s okay to let things happen, to let yourself lose control. And that sometimes good things happen when they are least expected, when you’re not owned by your expectations.

It came to me in a flash. In that single moment I understood Zen. Not as a far fetched religious principle but as a tool for engaging in a deeper dialogue with myself. As a tool for getting real.

We played all night and into the next morning.

It was the end of the year.

The end of the century.

The beginning of all things good.

I dropped out of the School of Enlightenment and went on tour.

 


Lis Anna-Langston

Lis Anna-Langston is a 2013 and 2011 Pushcart Prize nominee, a five time WorldFest winner, a Wurlitzer Grant recipient, a New Century Writers winner, Second Place Winner of the Thomas Wolfe Fiction Award, First Place winner of the 11th Annual Poet Hunt Award, a four time Accolade Film Competition winner, a finalist in the Nicholl Fellowships, the Doris Betts Fiction Award, Chesterfield Film Project, and the William Faulkner Competition.  She is the 2011 Readers Choice Award recipient from Fiction Fix, Second Place 2011 Winner of the Hint Fiction Contest. Her fiction has been published in Word Riot, The Blotter, Petigru Review, Hot Metal Press, The Smoking Poet, Eclectic Flash Literary Journal, Paper Skin Glass Bones, 491 Magazine, Fiction Fix, The Monarch Review, 5×5 Literary Magazine, Red Booth Review, Hint Fiction Anthology, Chamber Four Literary Magazine, Emyrs Journal, Literary Laundry, Barely South Review, Flash Fiction Offensive, Flashquake Literary Journal, Steel Toe Review, Cactus Heart Press, Empty Sink Publishing, Per Contra, Storyacious, Gravel Literary, Bedlam Publishing, The Merrimack Review, Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Sand Hill Review and The MacGuffin Literary Review.  You can learn more about her at lisannalangston.com

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