aka Tales of The Maniac Messiah
He was wearing her pajamas. And sleeping on her floor. Unaware of his own state of being. Drool covering his cheek. Conked out with his face pressed in to the edge of a notebook. An acoustic guitar balanced against his hip threatened to topple over at any second. He was exhausted so it’s no surprise he fell asleep here, like this. That he was wearing pink pull-string pajama bottoms shouldn’t be surprising either. That’s Jared. Secure in who he is, and simply uncomfortable earlier in his black jeans. They’re called boyfriend style pjs anyway. And he’s officially the boyfriend now.
She was wearing a black YSL pantsuit. Her hair pulled back in a high and tight pony tail. A gesture of respect shown by wearing the color of mourning. Even her high heels were black. The only color, her nails. Hot pink. She didn’t have time to change it out before the service and didn’t notice how offensive the color was until she was sitting in a velvet chair holding Matty’s hand inside hers. She gnawed on the paint all night after that. Trying to peel away the happy color and replace it with the suitable color of a nude nail. To no avail. For once the paint wouldn’t chip. Gel polish. Fancy. Inappropriate. Fun. Left over from the long weekend. Their vacation. The one that just ended this morning when she finally checked her voice mail and heard what happened the Thursday they left town.
Death. What a way to end the perfect weekend. Tragedy. So young. All their memories erased and replaced with death. The finality of it all. The surprise. She couldn’t catch her breath still. She’d only just heard. Thank god she did. It would have been worse if she missed the wake. Unforgivable perhaps. She was thankful for that small miracle. Thankful she could say goodbye.
“Baby?” JoLynn said as she bent over Jared. She tossed her purse on the bed with a thud. “I’m home.” she whispered.
Jared didn’t stir. No signs of life at all. JoLynn put her hand on his cheek. Felt the warmth of a man in a deep slumber and she left him there. Sleep like that is a rarity so she let him be and retreated to her closet where she kicked off her heels and peeled off her suit before sitting down on the ottoman in her stockings, bra and panties.
It was then, as she undid the clasp on her watch and right there on a cushioned seat in the closet, that the gravity of tonight and the reality of everafter hit her. And she sobbed in to her hands. Hard like a child. The watch fell to the floor and she paid it no attention. Waves of pure grief poured out of her. Private grief. She kicked the closet door closed with her stockinged foot. And curled up in a ball on the bench. Where she cried until she couldn’t see straight. Cried until her head ached. Cried until she was able to breathe again.
JoLynn washed her face in the sink. Pulled her hair out of the pony tail and shook it out. She brushed her hair for twenty minutes. Thought about every day she had with Grady. Every laugh. Every tear. Graduation. Prom. Third grade. She smiled more than teared as she tore the knots inside her curls loose. Grady. 34 years of Grady. How could she possibly do the 35th without him?
JoLynn placed the brush back in it’s spot in her vanity drawer and shut off the bathroom light. Grady. She grabbed the top to the PJ set Jared was wearing from her dresser drawer, slipped it on and kneeled by him at the foot of her own bed. She whispered in his ear again.
“Baby?” her hand softly shook his shoulder. “I’m home.” she whispered. And this time he heard her and rolled over towards her voice. His arms reached out to her before his eyes opened. She crawled inside his embrace. Draped her leg over his thigh and fell asleep right there next to him. On her bedroom floor.
And they slept like two babies. Two peas in the same pod. And he dreamt of colorful music notes. Arranged in rainbow colored clouds. And she dreamt of train tracks and high rises and bottles of pills and shotguns and nooses and tragedy. And Grady.
It was 4am and JoLynn’s back was aching. She carefully lifted Jared’s arm off of her, settled it softly by his side and rolled over on to her back to stare at the ceiling. Grady. Her mind immediately raced to him and the pit from her stomach reappeared in her throat.
JoLynn rolled over on to her side away from Jared. Her hip dug in to the wood beneath the rug so she settled herself again on her back. Eyes on the ceiling once more. It was impossible to get comfortable while her thoughts were inundated with everything she didn’t want to think about. Today would be another brutal day filled with traditions that should ease grief but only seem to intensify it in reality. Focused on the tragedy from sunup until sundown. JoLynn guessed that it’s better this way though she wasn’t looking forward to any of it.
Grady’s circle of loved ones need to move on. Get some sort of closure. At least enough so they can return to their work, school, parenting … eat … (who is she kidding, they’d all be eating their feelings by the plateful later this afternoon at the memorial dinner for Grady). Though by tomorrow they wouldn’t feel guilty for their gluttony. In fact, at some point a week from now they might even laugh again and eat and make plans with one another and feel no guilt at all. Full bellied and free. Grady’s death a fact not a weight. Because they buried him proper. Paid their respects. Sent the right flowers. Slipped the mass card in front of the photograph of Grady that now sits on the mantle, after it spent the last 9 years in a photo album stored on a shelf so high it rarely got dusted.
Funerals, specifically Catholic services for the dead, have their purpose. JoLynn supposed. Even if all of it is terrible, every recitation, genuflection, moment of introspection has merit. Undeniably, she wasn’t looking forward to it. But that’s normal.
After it became painfully obviously JoLynn wasn’t going to fall back to sleep, she stood up from the floor, arched her spine, stretched her arms up high over her head and rubbed her lower back as she made her way to the bathroom. The pant suit she wore to the wake last night was draped across the ottoman in the dressing room. She ran her hand across the fabric and fiddled with the dainty buttons at the cuffs. Such a beautiful suit but today she would wear a dress. Something black, of course, to be respectful but probably floral too. She thought about the vintage D&G in her closet. Maybe the Burberry or Gucci … Something beautiful for Grady. And she would wear her hair down like he always liked her to do. She would look feminine and classic. Grady’s way.
JoLynn stood over the sink brushing her teeth while the water in her shower warmed. Flecks of toothpaste, cast off from her electric toothbrush, splattered on the mirror. She was hunched so far over the counter it was inevitable. Her grief heavy and the terrible mistake to sleep on the floor aching through her back. She danced the brush across her molars, incisors then canines. Her gums, the roof of her mouth, her tongue. She rinsed the toothbrush, set it back on the charger, disrobed and climbed in to the scalding hot shower.
The water was too hot, far too hot, but the sensation of her flesh burning was calming to her. Her skin pinked quickly, then reddened under the stream of hot water. She closed her eyes and dipped her head backwards in to the stream so it cascaded through her long brown hair. The heat in the shower began to feel stifling. No longer comforting. It was making her dizzy. So she turned the nozzle to cold and shocked herself with the chill like jumping in to Lake Michigan in early March.
She did that once. Her and Grady. On a dare. Hand in hand. Polar plunged. It was the most awful experience. Breath stealing and bone chilling. But worth the $190 they earned for charity. Silly kids taking a break from their studies at the University of Michigan – about 80 of them jumped in the Lake that day. Kids studying education like she and Grady. He was studying to be a teacher – JoLynn was administration. Practical degrees. Promising careers. Both were successful. Grady slightly more than JoLynn since he impacted the lives of so many kids directly. JoLynn figured she’d see a lot of those faces today. California sun-kissed faces, not the pale milky faces of Michigan kids. Almost a completely different species. But kids he cherished just the same.
Grady and JoLynn moved out here together, to the land of sun and fun, a long time ago. Determined to make a difference in the LA County school district. A new life. A good life. Nice pay. Shared apartments, then the house. They had great plans and bright futures. Solid careers. Why, Grady?
JoLynn felt a rush of cool air hit her when Jared opened the door to her bathroom.
“Are you ok in there?” he asked quietly as he peeked his head around the door.
“Yeah, I’m fine … just … you know.” JoLynn responded morosely while she adjusted the temperature of the water once again. Jared came in to the bathroom and stood outside the glass shower. He couldn’t help but admire her silouette though he genuinely came in to console JoLynn.
“Want company?” he said from the other side of the glass door.
“Always.” she sighed.
Jared slipped out of the pink pajama pants, left them on the bathmat and climbed in to the shower with JoLynn. He turned on the other shower spigot and let the water warm on his back before giving JoLynn a small kiss on her collarbone. “You worried about today?”
JoLynn squirted a dollop of shampoo in to her hand and responded “No. I’m just … thinking about all of it. I guess.” She lathered up her long hair and continued “Last night was probably the worst part of it all. Scratch that. To be really honest … hearing the voice mail telling me Grady is gone … well, nothing will ever be as bad as that. You know?”
“Yeah.” Jared agreed. “I still can’t … I mean I obviously didn’t know him like you do … but I just …”
JoLynn let her gaze fall to the floor. Thick bubbles from her shampoo gathered around their feet. The drain was draining slowly. A clog. Probably her hair. Jared put his hand on her upper arm. Gave it a squeeze of confidence.
“I never would have left his side” she said “… I would have spent every remaining day of my own life talking to him, holding him, reminding him of how important he was … is … if that would have made any difference.” JoLynn could feel the tears falling and mixing with droplets of water on her face.
“You did do that for him Jo. Every time he called you went. You can’t feel guilty because he didn’t call this time.”
“I never should have left him … ever.”
Jared put his arms around her and pulled her in to him. Their wet bodies pressed together. JoLynn rested her head on his shoulder. He soaped up her back quietly. Then conditioned her hair. “He was sick, Jo.”
“He’d have stayed if he could.” Jared reminded her.
“He’s finally free?”
“I know.” she agreed. “And I should be happy for him. One day I will be. Just … not yet. I suppose. That comes later. When I get over my loss. This is all about me. I’m … happy? for him…no, never happy. But accepting of the end. I guess. But I won’t ever be ok with it. No matter what it is I think I believe about the afterlife and all that fucking bullshit.”
“Yeah … it takes time.”
“I think I want to make a donation … in his name.” JoLynn announced as she shut off the water on her side and grabbed the towel she had slung over the top of the shower door.
“To his school … maybe that Neighborhood House project too.”
“I’ll see if Shayla can get you the details…ok?”
“I probably have it all on my desk. He was hitting me up early for 2015…trying to get the money before the Spring …. ” JoLynn put her hand to her chest. Her mind running on overdrive. He was planning ahead. Last week. He must have waited for her to go out of town …. “Jared …”
“I know what you’re thinking. He didn’t. He wouldn’t.”
“He did. Oh my God … he did say goodbye. He did!”
“I know. I know I couldn’t have stopped him. God dammit we were so close…why didn’t I know?”
“He didn’t want you to know.” Jared grabbed a towel from the bar on the wall and wrapped it around his waist. “You were his good.”
“Will this ever make sense?”
“I’m afraid not Jo.”
JoLynn collapsed back inside Jared’s embrace and let her grief pour out of her in waves until he guided her back to the bed where she slept for another restless few hours until the alarm went off and they climbed in the shower together for a second time.
As Jared hooked the clasp on JoLynn’s charm bracelet he said softly “What we’ve got going on between us is really new…probably too new for this kind of…event. Right?” JoLynn nodded “But I feel like I have to prepare you for what might happen around me today. There’ll probably be a lot of awkward moments. People can be …very rude when they encounter me lately. Inappropriate big time. Like they forget manners and boundaries still apply whether I’m suddenly famous or not.”
“Yeah – I’ve had a little taste of all that already.”
“I’m only bringing it up because I don’t want you to waste a moment reacting to any of it … if it happens. I don’t want you thinking about anyone but Grady. Ok?”
JoLynn nodded her head so Jared continued even after JoLynn shook the bracelet in to place on her wrist and stepped away from him to continue getting dressed. “I want to be here for you. Be your rock. But if people start focusing on me, or there’s paparazzo, I’m going to excuse myself. Ok?”
“I don’t want to be a distraction from Grady. Not for one second.”
“Is that too weird? Should I not mention …”
JoLynn breathed in deeply and sighed “No. Of course. I appreciate what you’re saying. At least I’m prepared. I wouldn’t have even thought about that crap. Now I’m sort of on guard. Which is good. I guess? Thanks.” before kissing Jared softly on his cheek. “You’re a good man Charlie Brown.”
Jared winked at her. Satisfied that he was able to deliver that really hella-awkward warning without embarrassing himself too terribly. He changed subjects and asked “Do you have the eulogy?”
JoLynn patted her purse. “I do.”
“Ok, the car got here a few minutes ago. I’m ready whenever you are.”
“I just need my lip … I need a minute.” JoLynn requested as she retreated in to the half-bath. The words caught in her throat. She nearly choked on her emotions. JoLynn took her lipstick out of her handbag and smeared it across her lips with a very shaky hand. She didn’t care how it looked. She didn’t care that her Oscar winning boyfriend’s mere presence at Grady’s funeral might be an opportunity for the paparazzi to make a few bucks. She didn’t care about anything. Her eulogy would never be good enough to properly memorialize a man who was everything to her. He was everyone she ever needed in her life even if he was never her lover. He was much more important that that. Grady was her best friend. Best friend since they learned to walk and talk. He threw sand at her. She put dirt in his diaper. Grady was just as much a part of JoLynn as her right arm. How exactly is she supposed to do this?
Anger started to replace the grief clogging JoLynn’s soul. She smacked her lips together to even out the lipstick and gazed at herself in the mirror. The bags under her eyes weren’t as well hidden by the mounds of foundation as she thought. She looked like death herself. The grim reaper. The grieving best friend. The anti-hero.
“Well you’re a sight for sore eyes.” she heard someone say from behind her. The voice was painfully familiar.
“What did you ..” She turned around and there he was. A vision in a finely pressed Brooks Brothers suit. “Grady?”
“In the flesh … ” he teased “Well, not so much in the flesh as well … in between flesh and worm food.”
JoLynn put her hand out in front of her and she felt nothing. It’s not like in the movies where her hand went through some hollow-graphic. She looked like she was touching him. Her fingers looked like they were on the lapel of his jacket. She just couldn’t feel it. The sensation wasn’t there.
“Am I going crazy? I must be going crazy. Low blood sugar.” she said to the apparition before turning back to the mirror above the sink.
“Too soon?” Grady asked as he appeared in the mirror behind her.
“Stop it. You’re freaking me the fuck out!”
“I’m freaking you out? Imagine how I feel!” Grady said coyly.
“I’m imagining all of this. Go away. Go.”
“I will but first, seriously, we gotta talk.”
JoLynn turned around and faced what she was sure was a figment of her imagination. Grief gone awry. She would wake up any minute and find she never left her bed.
“Ok, Ghost of Grady Sims…speak.”
“Speak or I swear I’m going to wake myself up any second.”
“I didn’t kill myself.” he said succinctly.
“Oh yeah? Then how did you die?” JoLynn snarked.
“I was murdered.”
“Alrighty then … by who?”
“Oh come on. Jared who?
“Your boyfriend. Jared … Leto.”
“I was eleven months old when we met. I think you were thirteen…months….” JoLynn’s voice cracked and she was nearly whispering. The priest, Father Jacob, slipped up next to JoLynn and adjusted the microphone at the pulpit so JoLynn could be better heard inside the enormous sanctuary that was packed wall to wall with mourners. Father Jacob gave JoLynn an encouraging pat on the back before returning to his post elsewhere in the chapel.
JoLynn placed her fingertip on her notes – the Eulogy – and drew in a deep breath before continuing. “We have thousands of pictures of you and I. Of you and most people in this building. I’m thankful that I can look back and see that you did have good times. Those dimples of yours, high on your cheeks, that only revealed themselves when you smiled…Grady…no one could ever match that smile. You were happy Grady. I refuse to believe it was all bad. You got stuck in a moment Grady. I remember you happy.” The congregation collectively released acknowledgement by way of a soft sigh. An exchange of knowing glances.
She continued “The pain overwhelmed you. I understand that now. But oh how I wish it were different. We all do. But….” she paused and looked around the congregation. Took in the faces of those who loved him. Took strength from their eyes. “I refuse to allow your legacy to be suicide. You were not suicide. You were funny. You were happy. You were loving and you were kind. You were smart. And so handsome. I will always remember the advice you would give me when I was lost or insecure. You gave great advice Grady. Your friendship will be with me forever. Your laughter and your dreams. I will remember what you gave to me – always. How much more of a person I was because I knew you. Because I walked out the door of my home every single morning out in to a world that wasn’t ready for me knowing that I had someone on my team. A cheerleader. A mentor. A best friend. And I will never forget how it felt to be on your radar Grady….” JoLynn’s voice caught in her throat. Grady’s Mother stood up and walked slowly to the podium to hand JoLynn a tissue she had tucked in her sleeve. The moment was heartbreaking. The two women who Grady loved the most, barely standing. Barely breathing. Mrs Sims patted JoLynn softly on the arm and returned to the pew. Several of Grady’s relatives stood to escort Mary back to her spot on the velvet cushion.
“Grady …” JoLynn sniffed “You gave us all of you. Didn’t keep a thing for yourself. And I feel guilty now. Now that I know you were running on empty. That I didn’t refuel you like you did me … that we, may have, failed you. I feel so guilty Grady! That I wasn’t there for you! That you didn’t think I could….that any of us would….save you like you saved all of us…..” The sobs from the congregation were audible. Grief stricken and plentiful. JoLynn felt like she had to get them all crying so they could get it out here in this safe place where everyone had a support person. Where being naked and vulnerable is expected. The funeral. Have everyone unload it now so they can leave it here and go back to the land of the living and take out the recyclables, iron a shirt, find a match to their sock, put gas in the car, and live again. And forget all about Grady’s suicide. It was her job. Her responsibility. She needed to make sure that when the congregation left through those heavy wooden doors at the back of the church that they were thankful they had another day.
JoLynn turned the pages in her notebook to find an appropriate spot to rejoin the speech she had prepared. She stepped off mike, blew her nose and straightened her back before speaking again.
“I make this promise to you Grady. We will remember each other. We will remember the last time we spoke to a friend and make sure that span of time isn’t too wide. We will remember our Mothers. Our sisters. We’ll visit. We’ll write. We’ll send so many goddamn text messages we’ll have to increase our data plans. Grady, we’ll take care of each other better than we took care of you. I promise. We all promise. Forever a memory now, best friend, but also a lesson. You taught us to be here. That the pain will lift. That tomorrow will come. And that tomorrow is not so bad. This is bad … tomorrow is not. You will never be forgotten. The mark you made on this world is permanent. I can see it in the eyes of your kids. I can see their shoulders leaned in to their mothers. Grady, you taught so many of us to love. To be kind to one another. Knowing you was a priviledge. I love you Grady. And I will remember you. Always.”
Then she closed the top of her notebook and whispered in the microphone. “Thank you Mary for giving us Grady and letting me borrow him a little bit every single day from the day we first met until … until now.”
The congregation clapped and Mary hugged JoLynn tightly and Jared closed his eyes and thought to himself What the hell have I done?
JoLynn was leaning up against a railing, nineteen floors up, overlooking Los Angeles. Night was taking over the sky and the city’s lights were twinkling softly as the last of the sunset faded away. As orange and salmon colored streaks faded to charcoal then indigo, JoLynn felt a calm wash over her. She was sipping at a hot toddy from her tea cup, that might account for the calm, but she was crediting the view. She always loved the view from her condo. On the clearest of days she could see a little bit of the Ocean. On a night light this she could see the city view as it stretched across the canyon. It soothed her broken heart.
JoLynn is not much of a drinker but she savored the warmth of the whiskey as it slid down her throat. After half-a-dozen dainty sips of less than an ounce of liquor, JoLynn was working on a buzz. This was exactly what she needed. She has a chill in her bones she can’t shake but the drink is doing it’s best to take the edge off. An edge worn soft by an old Irish tradition. The hot toddy.
This week has been something out of a nightmare. Her worst dreams come to fruition. She will never be the same again. Not without Grady. But she’s thankful at this moment that she hasn’t been alone through all of this. Jared has been a Godsend really. Quietly supportive. A hand on her back to steady her. A hand interlaced with hers to reassure her. A nice pen for her thank you cards. Stamps. Hugs. Kisses. They haven’t made love since they came off vacation and she was longing for him. Her rock. Her new love.
He should be home soon. Home – she laughed at herself. Sure this is home, but it’s hers, not his…not theirs. He’s so ever-present of late that she can’t help but feel his absence tonight, though she’s lived here, in this condo, for four years without him. Funny how that changes so quickly. Then again, she always had her Grady occupying the space Jared now owns. Will she ever be able to go a night without Grady on the brain? She’s pining for Jared and in comes another reminder of Grady.
JoLynn set her teacup on the edge of the railing, rested her elbows along the bar and massaged her eyes with the heels of her hands. Deep circular massage. She replanted her hands tightly on the bar that crossed the top of the railing and peeked over the edge. Below, nineteen floors down, there was a lovely garden. Well maintained and inviting paths. Softly illuminated. It was empty at this hour. Everyone home who was going to be home for the night and those with a nightlife already out on the town. JoLynn nudged her teacup with her pointer finger so it was teetering along the edge of the railing. Nineteen floors down. Nineteen. She gave the cup a soft push and watched it tip over in slow motion until it hit the air and plummeted at a great speed to the ground. It shattered in a thousand, no a million little pieces. Dust almost. Gone. Dust in the wind.
A moment later his hands were on her shoulders. A heavy knit afghan enveloped her. JoLynn jumped. The blanket fell towards the floor of the terrace but Jared caught it.
“I didn’t mean to scare you.” he said kindly.
“I – I – I didn’t hear you come in.” JoLynn peeked carefully over the side of the railing once more. You couldn’t tell what she had done.
“That’s funny because I made quite a racket when I came in. Are you ok? I brought this out because it’s gotta be cold out here. Are you cold?”
“No. Yes. Well I’ve been drinking – and well…”
“Drinking?” Jared asked with marked shock in his voice. He scanned the terrace for her glass and raised an eyebrow.
“Oh. I’m done now.” JoLynn suggested.
Jared slipped the afghan over JoLynn’s shoulders and pulled her in to his arms. “I missed you today.” he whispered.
JoLynn buried her face in his chest and snuggled in tight “I’ve missed you too.”
Jared kissed her hair and rubbed her back as he watched the stars take their positions in the sky. The moon was rising fast tonight. It wouldn’t be a dark night.
“It’s getting cold at night already.” he remarked.
“Yeah. I’m not ready for the winter.”
They lamented the change of season, as if winter in California were an actual discomfort. People on the East Coast would have wanted to slap the both of them. Up North, they’d have shot them both on the spot. Spoiled sun-snobs.
“Let’s go inside.” JoLynn suggested after a few moments.
Jared slipped his hand inside hers but let her lead the way. She pulled him along behind her towards the bedroom. A smile crept across his face, a smirk across hers. “I’ve missed you.” she said again.
“Yeah.” he sighed as he pulled her in his arms again by the foot of the bed. He slipped off his boots. She shimmied out of her panties and let them fall to the floor. Her dress hung mid-thigh, covering the place she needed him to touch the most so she guided his hand to her center and let her hand fall away as he took over. JoLynn dipped her head backward so Jared could devour her neck as his touch brought her close to ecstasy quickly. Such talented hands. Such a primal craving. She needed him tonight, more than she ever needed him before. Her body was aching and wantful. “I need you …” she moaned “… inside of me.”
Jared licked his lips. “Oh yeah?” he teased. He was ready for her. His rock hard dick neglected by her but still ready. She was selfish tonight. He was ok with that. He could be selfish too.
Jared not so gently pushed JoLynn’s shoulder so she would fall back on the bed. She collapsed backwards like a rag doll. Ready for him but not ready for that. She recomposed herself and crawled up the bed so he could join her. Jared rested his knees against the foot of the bed as he disrobed himself. His full cock sprung up as he shook off his track pants.
JoLynn admired his naked form. Not a flaw. Honey colored nipples. Milky skin. Azure eyes. He looked predatory as he crawled across her legs. Chewed his way across her thighs to her middle. He suckled her center. His lips lingering on her while his fingers buried within her. JoLynn arched her back then shook. His tongue flickering across her clitoris as she stiffened.
“Oh my God.” she shouted in appreciation of Jared’s attention.
“You like that?” he teased as he slid himself inside her tender pusspuss.
Jared rocked slowly at first. Letting JoLynn come down from her first orgasm before bringing her quickly to a second with violent thrusting that nearly sent him over the edge himself. He pulled out at the last second, forcing his balls to reclaim his juices. It hurt but he wasn’t done with her yet. He wanted her in every position tonight. Soiled and sore before they collapsed in a slumber.
And he did – he had her knees to her own chin, legs spread, scissored and somewhat slizzered, jackknifed, spooned and then finally from behind. Her face buried in her pillow. Where he pumped himself in to her so hard, he thought he broke her back.
“That was … uh…wow” JoLynn groaned.
Jared growled in return “Shut the fuck up.”
“Shut the fuck up.” Jared growled.
An incredulous JoLynn stuttered back “What did you say to me?”
“I said ….” and he paused as he pulled his pants up “Shut.The.Fuck.Up.”
The atmosphere in JoLynn’s bedroom went from hot-like-the-sun to cold-like-a-coffin. Six feet under. In an instant. JoLynn rolled over and grabbed Jared’s flannel shirt from beside her on the bed and held it across her body to cover her nakedness. His words and her nakedness made her feel very vulnerable.
“That’s not funny Jared.” she said.
He replied curtly “It’s not meant to be.”
JoLynn’s eyes widened. She was shocked by his response. “Ew!” she exclaimed trying to make light of a very awkward exchange. She tucked her knees under her chin and burrowed underneath the flannel. Jared grabbed the shirt she was hiding under and tugged it quickly. It pulled out of her hand easily exposing her nakedness to him once again. JoLynn quickly covered her breasts with her hands and folded her legs over to cover her pubis. “Stop it!” JoLynn commanded. This wasn’t just awkward now, it was weird and bordering on scary.
Jared nibbled on his bottom lip and rocked back and forth on his heels as looked JoLynn over. He was assessing his options, JoLynn was trying to figure him out. Selfish sex puts Jared in a mood. Yes, that mood. He asked himself the same questions he always does when he’s feeling a bit needy: Is he ready to give her up? She can be kind of fun. Likes to hike. Has a so/so sense of humor. Though not lately. To be honest, lately, she’s not even fun to fuck anymore. Yeah. He’s ready to give her up. Will she be easy to get rid of when he’s done with her? That might pose a challenge but obstacles like this are half the fun. Help build the rush. He ran through his other questions – the ones that helped him decide to be a good Jared or a very very bad Jared and quickly made up his mind. Easily made up his mind. He was almost giddy. Show time.
He slapped the bottom of her foot. “What’d you do that for?” she asked.
Mopey JoLynn … wah wah wah … JoLynn. Such a weak bitch. He’s not sure why he wanted her all to himself in the first place. She’s too needy without Grady. Useless. And Jesus Christ will she ever shut the fuck up about “her loss?” If Jared hadn’t have killed him, he’d have offed himself by now for fuck sake. Dude hated life. Jared did him a favor. Time to move on. He was weak too. Too easy. Wah Wah Wah. I don’t wanna die. I’ll do anything. Wahhh. You do want to die you stupid fuck.
JoLynn was officially creeped out so she hopped out of bed, moved quickly along the wall and tried to dash in to her dressing closet so she could grab some clothing but Jared zipped to her side and pushed her forcefully in to the sheetrock without warning. JoLynn yelped. Jared felt a rush of adrenaline pass through him, like the seconds before he would climb on stage. The audience chanting. Il Fortuna blaring loudly through the speakers. Anticipation. He savored it, like gravy on his lips. The prelude is half the fun. All those moments leading up to the show. Mmmm. He could feel himself getting hard again. God, he loved this. Like an addiction.
JoLynn was naked and she was shaking when he whispered “I think I’m sick JoLynn.” directly in to her face. His lips inches from hers. His eyes were shifty. JoLynn told herself he’s not going to hurt her. She just needs to talk to him. Tell him he’s scaring her. He clearly doesn’t know how he sounds or how what he’s doing is coming across. He’s not like this. There’s something wrong with him. Maybe he’s high? JoLynn is misunderstanding something. He wouldn’t be trying to scare her, he likes her, doesn’t he? Something is most definitely wrong. She could feel his heart beat between them. Fast.
She talked herself out of the fear. Sort of. Her mind was running a mile a minute, but she didn’t say much to Jared. Even as he tied her hands together with the arms of his flannel. She wasn’t sure if what she would say would set him off further. The fear was back. Paralyzing. Overly-compliant fear. Tears fell from her eyes but she told herself she’s going to be ok as long as she did what he said. Her nipples were hard and she felt ashamed of her weakness as Jared tied her arms behind her back. Why wasn’t she fighting back? She has to fight back.
Tears dropped quickly from her eyes and slid down her chin and across her breast. JoLynn wanted so badly to cover herself. She couldn’t believe how quickly being naked with him had changed from something so special to something so horrifying. Those lips, the ones cursing at her, were just all over every inch of her exposed skin and she loved every single one of those kisses before this, whatever the hell this is, started happening. When he was still acting like the man she was falling in love with. Now those same lips are spitting venom. And she’s helpless. Not even ten minutes have passed since they finished making love and now … this. What’s wrong with him?!? She decided to fight back. It’s now or never. She filled her lungs with oxygen and screamed “Let me go!” as she brought her knee up to his groin.
Jared didn’t react though a wave of pain shot through him. He fed off it immediately and bit down hard on her breast. JoLynn tried to head-butt him but it did no good. He felt no pain and he didn’t release his grip on her shoulders. His teeth broke through the soft skin of her breast. In an instant, she was bleeding and purple.
“Oh? You want me to stop?” he asked with a trickle of her blood on his lip.
“Please Jared … ” she cried “Stop. You’re hurting me.”
“Why are you shouting at me?”
“I want you to…”
He cut her off mid-sentence “You want me to sing you a song? What do you want to hear…tell me…I’ll play anything you wish….” he laughed as he recited lines from his live show.
JoLynn said nothing. Every hair on her arms was standing up. Goosebumps filed in to position on her flesh.
Jared kept rambling. Running his fingers across her forehead as he spoke “Beg for your favorite song – or beg for your life. Same – Same.” he tilted his head slightly to study her reactions closer. “Demon? Where did my angel go?” Jared scratched his beard and slapped JoLynn. “Do you still like me JoLynn?”
“This isn’t funny Jared!” she cried “Why would you want to hurt me? What are you even saying??”
Jared laughed again. A menacing chuckle. “It really is the same shit. Isn’t it? Twenty thousand whores begging me for more …or just one….begging. All the same. Didn’t think anything could feel as good as a night on stage …it’s so hard to be off stage.. how am I supposed to deal…to deal…with the other 22 hours in the day…You can’t! Nobody can. We’ve all gone insane… but not me, no JoLynn … baby” he whispered in her ear “I think I found the answer. This right here…” he ran his thumb across the bruised bite mark on her breast “might actually be better than all that. It’s incredible. I wish you could feel what I’m feeling right now.”
JoLynn cried harder as the reality of what he was saying sunk in. Then he slapped her hard across her mouth. “You really should learn when to SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
“Stop it!” she shouted as he scratched at her skin and banged her head against the wall.
“I thought you liked it rough!”
“No! It’s too much!” she cried.
“Thats too bad.” he said before he brought his knee up in to her stomach. She cried out as he kneed her again, she fell to the floor, doubled over in pain and he kicked her twice in the ribcage. Urine pooled beneath her on the hard-wood floors.
“You’re going to kill me!”
“Oh my God! Why are you doing this?” she screamed “Why?” as she curled up in a fetal position.
“I’m sick.” Jared reminded her. “In the fucking head. I’m sick. Sick!” he paced the length of JoLynn’s bedroom. Tapping his fingers against his forehead as he spoke. “It’s so unnatural. All that adulation. So many screaming fans. How am I supposed to be normal after all that? I’m not. Never was …. still aren’t.”
JoLynn lay on the floor, in her own urine, broken bones protruding from her wrists. Bright purple bruises covering her bare skin. Red rashed skin. She tried to protect herself from his kicks but she was no match for his strength.
After exhausting himself with violence, Jared walked out of the room and JoLynn wet herself again. She shook so hardily you could hear her tremors from the other room. Wooden. Inhumane. The clock on her dresser tick-ticked endlessly. She was freezing and frightened. And everything hurt. Her arms were twisted so badly behind her. She was sure, given their unnatural position and the enormous amount of pain she was feeling, that one if not both were most definitely broken. She couldn’t believe he kicked her. He bit her! He punched her! What kind of man does that to a girl? A girl he just made love to? Maybe he’s high. He has to be high. That’s not an excuse but it most certainly would be an explanation. Maybe he needs help. Maybe the drugs are destroying his brain. Something terrible is happening inside his head. Maybe the sex, that rush of adrenaline made him have a bad reaction. He ingested it too quickly. People on meth do crazy things – maybe he’s on meth? JoLynn cried for Jared. Felt sympathy for him. Something is wrong. That’s not her sweetheart that did these things. She would forgive him.
As she lay there she figured the worst of it had passed. She was breaking up with him after this, that’s for sure. There’s no amount of sorries that would forgive this type of transgression. She’s not the kinda girl that could pretend this didn’t happen like those stupid chicks on the news. No matter what the excuse. She’s not a battered girlfriend. As her thoughts settled in on what comes after – she’d change her locks for sure but that’s probably as far as she’d take it – she started to calm down. She wouldn’t ruin his career with a police report. What good would that do anyway? She would say she’s was in a car accident, though she wasn’t sure how she’d explain the bite marks.
JoLynn sat up, which was a feat in itself, everything hurt so she just leaned against the wall. Her arms still bound behind her. She was amazed that she couldn’t undo the shirt – she blamed the broken bones. She would be ok. She felt a little strength return to her, she’d be ok. He’d be ok. She had to get him help too.
“I need to go to the hospital.” JoLynn shouted in to the other room.
Jared didn’t respond.
“Jared?” she called out after a few minutes.
Another eternity passed. JoLynn estimated it had been at least a half-hour. She was so cold but she could barely move. She tried to stand up but her head started spinning. She saw Jared’s boots walk around the side of the bed slowly. Back over to her side.
“I think my wrist is broken. Maybe my rib….” JoLynn stopped talking when she saw Jared in front of her again. He was wearing purple rubber gloves – the kind you see in the hospitals now. And he was holding a bottle of bleach and one of those long lighters meant for the grill. “What’s that for Jared?” JoLynn asked as she slid herself up the wall so that she’d be standing. “What are you doing with that?” she said and she jumped on the bed and scurried towards the hallway. Adrenaline propelled her. Jared ran after her. Quicker than her. Nimble and quick. As JoLynn wrestled against Jared’s right hand which was wrapped around her throat tightly, he took the uncapped bottle of bleach with his left and poured it over her face, it burnt through her hair in to her eyes and she screamed like a wounded animal. Blood curdling screams he quickly needed to silence. He wasn’t expecting the bleach to hurt that bad…just to blind her quickly so she wouldn’t keep giving him that look …that betrayed puppy look all fucking night long.
He dropped the bottle of bleach on the hallway floor. A few drops splashed up on his track pants and he grumbled before snapping JoLynn’s neck.
Fuck – he really liked these pants!
It was quiet in the hallway where Jared stood, a dead JoLynn limp in his arms. Finally – it’s quiet! Jared let her body fall to the floor in a slump. She looked grotesque. Her skin was bubbling – reacting to the bleach. He bent down to examine the damage and slid a gloved fingertip through her puckering skin. Thats too bad. He thought. She wouldn’t be having an open casket. Grady had an open casket. He still looked quite dead but also peaceful. JoLynn would never look peaceful. Maybe he shouldn’t have done that. The bleach was a little over the top. But it was under the counter there where she kept the purple gloves. It’s not his fault.
Jared dragged JoLynn to the bathroom where he propped her up in the tub. He let the tub fill all around her and the shower spigot wash over her. He wanted to wash away the bleach. Disposing of her is going to be a problem. She stinks to high heavens. If he set her on fire, someone would come to put out the flames. He walked back to the terrace, connected a shadow phone (untraceable) and dialed JoLynn’s number.
Hey honey. I’m worried about you. Haven’t heard from you all day. Call me when you get in, ok?
The ceiling beneath Apartment No 6277 was soft and blistering. The occupant, an aging Mrs Arbuckle, was furious that the maintenance man, Julio, was slow to respond. Finally, he showed, took a lackluster look at the ceiling and quickly blamed Miss Baker’s pipes above for the puckering sheetrock.
“I have to get inside Miss Baker’s apartment to be sure, but it looks like water coming through from up there to me.” Julio said.
Mrs. Arbuckle groaned and adjusted the towels she had covering her piano. “It has to be fixed right away!” she warned.
Julio said he’d fix it as soon as Miss Baker returned the maintenance man’s last call. He had to give 24 hour notice if he was going to enter the apartment – unless, of course, it was an emergency. To Mrs Arbuckle, everything is an emergency. To Julio, it can wait 24 hours. All of it.
He left the apartment, returned to his workshop and fielded more calls from the angry Mrs Arbuckle.
“The ceiling is going to come down if you don’t do something! It is getting worse by the minute!”
“Miss Baker is out of town. I can’t just…”
“I had to put a bucket under it Julio!”
Only because he was quite sick of the calls every twenty minutes, Julio took his feet down off his desk, slammed them in to the ground and grumbled “I’ll check it out Mrs Arbuckle.”
Julio knocked twice on JoLynn Baker’s door and waited for a response. When none came, he slipped his master key in to the lock and let himself inside JoLynn Baker’s quiet apartment. Before he stepped completely across the threshold, he smelled her. But he didn’t recognize it as her.
“Damn girl. That better not be mold.” He groaned aloud but to himself as he pulled his t-shirt over his mouth and nose. He shut the apartment door behind himself and set his tool bag on the floor. Julio went in to the kitchen, shined a flashlight under the sink. All clear. What the fuck is that stench? He peeked in Miss Baker’s fridge ’cause thats what he does. Practically empty. Skinny bitch. Damn, this place wreaks.
Julio walked slowly down the hallway to where the bedrooms are in this model. The stench became unbearable in front of JoLynn’s closed bedroom door. Bile rose in his throat. And his stomach tied in a knot. Whatever was on the other side of this door was likely causing the bubbling in Mrs Arbuckle’s ceiling and that meant a lot of work for Julio this week. Julio didn’t like too much work. He turned the knob and saw the California sun was cascading across a messy suite. It was hot in this room. He saw her blankets twisted on the floor. End table over turned. How do you overturn an end table that size? Then the blood. Smeared across the wall, her hand prints, a half dozen, a pool of blood and maybe urine on the rug. What the fuck?
Julio could hear the water coming from the bathroom. Too dumb to retreat, Julio walked in to the bathroom. His shoes picking up blood and redepositing it all around the room.
“Miss Baker?” he called out carefully.
In the bathroom there was more blood and the overwhelming stench of bleach. The tub was running over, a the faucet and the shower spigot on. The floor felt soft beneath his feet. It was covered in water. Pink tinged water. Julio backed out of the apartment, placed a call to his girlfriend, reported the scene to her, asked her what the hell to do and she called the police.
Julio shut off the water to the apartment from the balcony and sat there waiting for the police. Blood on his shirt, boots and toolbag. The owner of the high rise tower came in the suite, covered his face and joined Julio on the terrace.
“Is it bad?” he asked Julio.
“Its something alright.”
Jared Leto was sitting in the sun checking his email on his ipad. The pool boy was skimming leaves and random debris from the pool and Jared rolled his eyes. The upkeep is such a wasted expense, Jared swims in the pool maybe once a year, if that. But every good California home has one, if they have the flat space. So he has one too. Only because it came with the house.
Jared swiped his screen to wake the tablet back up. 114 unread emails. He groaned. It was a busy time for him, like always. But he was feeling good today. Work is a nice distraction from the incessant pull in his gut. When work is busy, Jared behaves. Luckily for him, and all of the expendable people in his path, he would be satisfied for a while now. Given the complexity of JoLynn and Grady’s sacrifice, Jared could be normal again for a while. Play the role of the rock star without feeling like half a man. It would be enough again, for now.
“Hey Shayla?” he called in to the house. “What time do we leave?”
“Four!” she shouted from an opened window.
“Four.” he repeated. That gave him a few hours to play with. “I’m going to go for a run!” he shouted and he tucked his ipad in on a shelf just inside the sliding glass doors, grabbed his keys and climbed the stairs up to his waiting truck. His freshly detailed truck.
He drove himself up in to the Hollywood Hills via Laurel Canyon then Mullholland. It was a beautiful day. Typical California. Hot but not too hot. He crossed the mountain, wound through the canyon and found his secret spot – the one he mentioned too many times in Artifact. He paused for a moment, looking out over the precipice, then locked up the truck and headed down his favorite trail. The one that he seemed to single-handedly enjoy.
At the bottom of the trail, an hours walk down, Jared checked on his trophies. Nine total. Giant rocks, not quite boulders, lined the perimeter of his dumping grounds. Hidden on a hill accessed by no one. He examined the bones. Meatless mostly, but in varied states of decay. The animals had been here again. Chunks of JoLynn were missing. That part unsettled him. JoLynn deserved to be inside the ground not here. But he couldn’t just leave her there. No one would believe that was a suicide too, not now. Not then. Fucking bleach. Stupid idea. He wouldn’t do that again. Even though it was quite fascinating.
Jared threw the palm leaf blanket over his pile of victims and crawled out on a large boulder to stare at the city of angels below him. He nibbled at his trail mix and sighed the sigh of a content man. The sun washed over him and he was nearly asleep when he heard his name.
“Is that really you?” someone gushed “Oh my God Jared! It is you!”
Jared turned around and to his horror saw a fan, easily recognizable wearing head-to-toe band merch, going gaga over their chance meeting out here in the middle of fucking nowhere on the side of a goddamn mountain.
“Hello.” he said as he casually looked over towards his kills. They were well concealed behind the other large rocks but their stench was not. He could smell it, even there, out on the edge of the rock.
“I can’t believe it’s you!”
“It’s me.” he said with a smile. Blue eyes twinkling, gut pulling….not again!
“This is like so weird because I like totally love you so much and oh my god when I came out here I was like there’s no fucking way I’m going to run in to him but I figured why not try. Right? So I watched Artifact like 40 times … like over and over and over trying to figure out where the hell your like secret spot was and I’m like looking for clues in every frame…crazy right…hah-hah… then I came out here – well a few times because I wasn’t sure where exactly to go but that gate, man that gate gave it away! You know that one scene where you and Tomo are doing the ‘pooh shammi’ thing….that happened right here! Oh my god.”
And Jared felt like puking vile bile all over this kid. And the kid kept puking out his rainbows and unicorn glitter all over Jared. And the moment became so goddamn uncomfortable that Jared had no choice but to take control. So he asked the kid “Hey Kid?”
“Yeah, man? What? I can’t believe you’re talking to me!”
“Remember how the pushyami works?”
“Yeah, you um …”
“The short version: find a rock, meditate over the rock whats troubling you then toss it in to the abyss and let go of whatever is weighing you down.”
“Yeah, so you wanna try it?”
“Of course man, of course.” So the kid searched the ground for a perfect rock. Nice and round. Smooth. No edges. And he smiled at Jared and presented the rock before him inside his open palm for approval.
Jared nodded. “Good one. Ok now come over here by the edge. Watch your step, ok?”
“Now close your eyes and think about whatever it is that’s troubling you, then give that rock a whirl and let it go…ok on the count of three….one…two” and Jared pushed that little fucker right off the side of the cliff.
“Whoopsie” Jared said and he went back to the boulder, picked up his trail mix, popped an almond on his tongue and sighed the sigh of a contented man once more.