Henry woke up a little past midnight to the smell of cigarette smoke and the sound of a small stringed instrument. Lucy was in the living room lounging in the desk chair with her bare feet up on the desk. A cigarette trailed smoke in a moonlit haze above her. She was playing a ukulele and tapping her foot as she gazed out into the field of twinkling lights beyond the window pane. Henry watched her from the doorway. She strummed “Sappy” by Nirvana.
“And if you save yourself
You will make him happy
He’ll keep you in a jar
And you’ll think you’re happy
He’ll give you breathing holes
And you’ll think you’re happy
He’ll cover you with grass
And you’ll think you’re happy now
You’re in a laundry room
You’re in a laundry room
The clues that came to you, oh”
“Good job.” Henry whispered in her ear. Lucy jumped in surprise and dropped the ukulele with a loud twanging clatter.
“Fuck! You scared me!” Lucy admonished. She jumped up from the chair and picked up the ukulele. His white shirt was buttoned only over her navel. Henry cupped her ass as she bent over, sat in the desk chair and stole her cigarette from the ashtray.
“Sorry… I thought you didn’t smoke?” He said, taking a drag of her cigarette.
“Not in front of people.” Lucy said as she sat on the desk. She tuned the uke and stole her cigarette back.
“Me too.” Admitted Henry. “Wait… am I even allowed to say that anymore?” He asked, hoping she wasn’t offended.
“You’re allowed to say whatever you want, you just have to be willing to deal with the consequences.” Lucy crushed the cigarette in the ashtray. “I’m gonna go for a swim in your tub…” She hopped up, handed him the ukulele and headed for the bathroom. She took off his shirt and tossed it behind her. Henry looked at the instrument in his hands, perplexed.
“Stay out of the deep end!” He said.
“Haha, movie references…” She giggled from the bathroom. He heard the rush of the faucet.
“Where did you even get a ukulele this time of night?” Henry asked.
“It was in my bag!” Lucy shouted over the running water. Henry looked at the envelope-sized black clutch on the desk, back at the instrument which would never have fit inside it…
“Are you coming?” Lucy called from the bathroom. The ukulele clattered to the ground again.
Henry’s dreams were filled with snakes, water, and ominous gray clouds of foreboding. Ripped back to reality by the electronic screech of the alarm clock, his left hand fumbled to find the unfamiliar “off” button. The screech continued, his eyes opened an excruciating crack to see a bright red 11:6 staring him down. The son of a bitch is upside down! He thought, while emitting an annoyed groan. By the time he found the button, a migraine was already attempting to halve his brain with an axe made of broken glass and molten hot metal. He tried to rub his eyes and discovered his right wrist handcuffed to the bed frame.
“Not funny…” Henry grumbled, rubbing his eyes with his free hand. “Okay, come out now! I don’t like this game!” Silence responded. In the heavily-draped darkness of the hotel room, Henry felt around for his phone. It was missing from the spot on the nightstand where he left it. Still unwilling to turn on the bedside lamp and face his shame, Henry felt around for the nightstand hotel phone… which was also missing.
“Oh, fuck me.” Henry said to no one.
“These kind of things wouldn’t happen if you didn’t stick your dick in crazy chicks…” Charlie said, using Henry as a speaker.
“Who asked you, kid?” Henry responded. Controlling the voices had been a challenge, but they always came out when he was stressed and alone.
“Turn on the light, idiot.” Bruce told him.
“My head is gonna crack right open.”
“Yeah, let’s all just stay handcuffed to a bed in Vegas forever because we’re too afraid to turn on the goddamn light, shall we?” Jack said, sounding exactly like Henry. He closed his eyes as tight as possible and reached for the bedside light switch. Gingerly opening his eyes again, Henry blinked twice to make sure what he saw was really there. He thought it was blood.
“YOUR WELCOME!” Was written in bright red lipstick on the ceiling above the bed in huge, scrawling letters.
“That’s the wrong ‘your’…” Henry muttered, rubbing his eyes again. The TV turned on to local news even though the remote was nowhere to be found. Must be automatic, he thought.
“Breaking news, we are going live to the scene of a plane crash several miles outside of the Las Vegas airport.” A reporter jostled a memory from Henry’s hangover-clouded brain at the word “airport”.
“FUCK I MISSED MY FLIGHT!” Henry shouted, immediately feeling like a dick.
“Flight 17 from Las Vegas to Los Angeles has crashed in the desert due to undetermined mechanical failure, fire crews are racing to the scene…” Something was starting to settle in Henry’s consciousness. His free hand rummaged through the drawer in the nightstand. He almost didn’t want to look at the flight number on the ticket. He held the piece of paper in his hand with his thumb over the number… 17.
“No.” Henry put the ticket against his forehead in a fist. “No. No. No.” He threw the ticket aside and looked around for something to get himself out of the handcuffs or call for help. Surely Ben would… “OH FUCK! Ben!” His best friend was on that flight. Decades of memories rushed over him like an open fire hydrant. Devastation and guilt dropped next, crushing him into shocked paralysis. The white noise of the news became a distant, high-pitched whine. On the floor across the room, his cell phone lit up, ringing with “PRIVATE” filling the screen.
Henry jumped for the phone out of instinct, forgot he was handcuffed to the bed, almost dislocated his shoulder. The phone continued to buzz “PRIVATE”. Panic settled over Henry as he looked around for something to lasso the phone. He made a few knots in the bedsheet and threw the heavy end toward the phone. The makeshift lasso inched the phone closer to him as it continued to buzz. It was almost within arms reach when the buzzing stopped. Henry’s middle finger was a millimeter away from touching the phone when the door opened. Ben stood in the doorway with a half-eaten waffle in his bare hands, grinning at Henry’s predicament.
“Well, looks like one of us is bringing home some juicy Vegas stories!” Ben said, munching on his waffle.
“Jesus Christ monkey balls, Ben! I thought you were dead!” Henry shouted, putting his free hand over his heart.
“Nah, I booted all that Louie in the trash like twice. I’ll live.” Ben said through a mouthful of waffle.
“Haven’t you seen the news? And help me for fuck’s sake!” Henry said, tugging on the handcuffs.
“Right, I’ll get a saw…” Ben pretended to run out the door. Henry was not amused. They turned towards the news…
“Flight 17 has been located 15 miles outside of the Las Vegas Airport, miraculously… all passengers on board have been rescued. Not a single fatality has been reported. Some minor injuries were sustained…” Cut to the scene of the plane crash, another reporter talking to a firefighter.
“As you can see, there was an engine malfunction right next to the exit row, if anyone had been sitting there, they would have been blown to smithereens! I can tell ya, in my 35 years of puttin’ out fires, I have never seen something like this happen.” Said the bewildered fire chief.
Ben looked at Henry handcuffed to the bed for a few long seconds. Henry was notorious for insisting on an exit row seat.
“So… how was your night?” He said through another mouthful of waffle.
“Good morning…” whispered a low, smooth voice. Jess was startled awake by a smiling, sweaty, sexy black man on the other side of the reception desk. She had fallen asleep on the job. Nobody was ever around to notice at this time of the morning. Instinct compelled her click out of the browser on the computer she wasn’t supposed to be using for writing fanfiction.
“Can I help you?” She said, rubbing her eyes underneath her thick black framed glasses.
“You’re beautiful when you’re sleeping.” The sexy black man said. He was dressed in a loose blue tank top and red basketball shorts, a damp towel slung over his sweaty shoulder. His smile stood out brilliant white against the dark brown of his skin. Rivulets of sweat ran from the crown of his shaved head down to his exquisite cheekbones, amusement sparkled in his dark brown eyes. He held a set of BMW keys with a fob for the building, so she wasn’t sure what he wanted from her. The only thing Jess had to do was give people mail and open the door. She wasn’t used to any long conversations on this job.
“Uh… thank you?” Jess shuffled the few items around on the desk, fiddled with a paperclip, tucked her hair behind her ear. Anything to not have to deal with such an attractive man catching her failing at something. She didn’t feel good at anything but staying up all night and she was afraid he would tell the boss. She needed this job if she was ever gonna get out of Grandma’s basement. He leaned over the desk to read her name tag.
“What does the J stand for, Miss Bundy?”
“Jessica.” She squeaked, cleared her throat and tried to sound professional. “Ahem. Jessica Bundy.” A familiar look of salacious recognition settled on his face and Jess knew what was coming next.
“Jessica Bundy? Like Jessie Bundy from that 90’s show… what was it?”
“‘Love and Marriage’” Jess reluctantly reminded because it was less excruciating to just move this conversation along.
“Oh my lord, that girl was fine! All the dudes at my prep school wanted to get with Jessie!” He looked like that was supposed to impress her.
“Yep. Mine too.” Nobody wanted to “get with” Jess at her high school despite the association of her name to the sexy teenage daughter on a 90’s sitcom. She wasn’t really interested in them either.
“Well, you are so much sexier than her. I love a thick woman…” He said, assured of his seductive technique. Jess felt like he was calling her fat.
“I appreciate the compliment. Is there anything else I can do for you?” She said with a prim smile.
“Would you like to come up to my place for a bit?”
“Um… no thank you?”
“I’m on the clock.”
“You’ll get off soon…”
“I don’t even know your name, sir.”
“It’s Tony Richmond!”
“Like on ‘American Family’?”
“I don’t watch that show.”
“Have a nice day, sir.”
“What do you mean you don’t google yourself!” The real Ben Fisher shoved the real Henry O’Connor out of the way and typed his name into the address bar. Up popped several dozen links to “American Family”. The very last result on the first page was titled “What I Would Do Sexually to Henry O’Connor” on fanfiction.net. Henry was absentmindedly doodling on a sketchpad, a little annoyed to have his desk hijacked in the middle of a work day for some nonsense. His office was full of cartoon memorabilia, so it was tough to keep it serious.
“You realize we have a meeting in fifteen minutes, right?” Henry held up his watch in front of Ben’s face so he couldn’t see the screen. Ben slapped his hand away and they got into a brief sissy slap fight.
“There may be no point, man! The word is out…” Ben turned the screen towards him with a paragraph highlighted.
“What the hell are you talking about?” Henry said. His face contorted into an anxious melange of fury. “What. The. Fuck…How did she know?” It was top secret that he was planning on leaving “American Family” after ten seasons. They were on their way to a meeting with the PR people about releasing the information to the public.
“How is this even legal? She’s using your real name! And mine! But you’re the only one who gets a sex scene? What kind of shit is this?” Ben said while reading over Henry’s shoulder. He was grinning and bouncing in excitement.
“It’s just… Wow. Accurate… and funny!” Henry said, his dark eyes softening as he scanned the words, devouring every character.
“I know, right? Almost too funny! Do you think it could be Trey and Matt messing with us?”
“Nah, they do that on their show.”
The intercom buzzed.
“Mr. O’Connor, you should be getting to the meeting now.” Said the speakerphone.
“Thank you, Linda… Wait. Reschedule.” Henry said, pressing the button while reading.
“Yes sir.” Said Linda.
“How could she know all this? Who is she?” Ben said, watching Henry’s reactions as he read the story.
“I think I know…” Henry didn’t tell people he used to catfish his fans on Myspace for fun and inspiration. He recognized “Fangirl25” by her writing.
“Damn, Henry! When you break her heart by cancelling your own show, maybe she’ll write a sex scene about me next!” Ben cajoled, jostling his shoulder. Henry’s entire reality flipped upside-down as he read the story. She was right about so much.
“I can’t do it.” Henry said.
“I could… if she’s as hot as she is in this story!”
“No, I mean I can’t quit. Not now…”
“What about the Tesla musical you’re working on?” Ben’s voice raised to a high pitch at the end of the sentence.
“Wait till you get to the part about the plane crash…”