Meet the story that literally brought Water Hold Me Down, to a dead standstill.
Now I can go back to writing Water in peace.
This was probably the hardest and most emotionally draining story I've ever written. I can't believe a 50-page short-ish (well, for me) took so much out of me.
So, without further ado:Title: Cuckoo in the Nest
Author: Lizbeth Marcs
Fandom: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is owned by FOX, written and produced by Mutant Enemy, which means none of the characters in this story are mine.
Summary: Tony Harris always knew there was something off about the kid. From the day he was born, he and Jessica never had anything but bad luck.
Genre: Character study, old skool/future fic
Warning: Language. Spoilers for all of BtVS.
Character (Main): Tony Harris
Supporting (Major): Jessica Harris, Xander, Anya, Giles, Willow
Tony looks at the kid and sees…
He doesn’t want to think about what he sees.
What he doesn’t see is a reflection, that’s for goddamn sure.
It makes him angry. Furious. Murderous.
He sees black hair and hazel eyes and he’s reminded that fucking Jessica conned him.
But he said, “’til death do us part,” so that’s the way it’s gotta be.
There are days he’d like to punch through the kid’s chest, rip out his heart, and squeeze it in front his eyes. He wants to scream the truth in the kid’s face, but he knows he won’t. He doesn’t want to admit that there might be a reason why the kid’s an only a child, even to himself. Like his daddy once told him: any man who shoots blanks ain’t a man. The kid is living, breathing proof — a constant reminder rubbed in his face on a daily basis — that maybe, just maybe, he shoots nothing but blanks.
Then there are days that Tony can feel himself melting when the kid smiles. It’s a smile that illuminates the face, that lights up the fucking room, and it’s so bright, bright, bright that all Tony can do is squint against the light, bask in the warmth, and wish he could get beyond black hair and hazel eyes.
The kid’s smile is cheaply won. Tony knows this from experience. The smallest goddamn thing makes the kid happy and when his face lights up with that smile it means about as much as someone dropping a penny in a slot. Maybe the kid’s so easily thrilled with life because he knows he’s lucky to have even been born. When Tony needs to take the edge off with Wild Turkey, he sometimes slips and reminds the kid of that fact. The kid’s smile vanishes and Tony gets angry because he can feel the loss in the pit of his stomach.
He and Jessica, they’ve been hitched for…how old’s the kid again? They were married eight years ago last month. Christ. Like he could forget. They went out to celebrate the anniversary and Jessica sent her food back because the meat wasn’t cooked enough. Jessica in a nutshell, right there. Never fucking happy with anything.
So, eight years ago last month he made the biggest mistake of his life by believing Jessica.
Two years ago this month he heard about Jessica in the frat house and realized the truth about the kid.
The kid’ll be eight next month.
The kid’s trying, but he just ain’t good.
The kid swings the bat and the baseball sails right past him. He should’ve been able to hit that. It was thrown right over the plate.
The whole little league experience is another link in the chain of evidence as far as Tony’s concerned. When Tony was a kid he was a sports freak. Baseball, basketball, football, anything with a ball and he was the king. MVP in JV. Football scholarship just waiting for him. Then along comes fucking Jessica and her lies.
Tony takes a sip from his beer. It’s cheap shit, but he needs to drive the kid home after the game so he can’t afford to get a buzz on. Some wetback asshole next to him starts screaming at the coach to yank the kid out of the lineup because he sucks so bad that he’s making the team lose.
Finally the loudmouth gets on his nerves and Tony points out that the team was losing long before the kid got anywhere near the bat.
Tony knows the other guy swung first. He doesn’t care what the other parents say.
The following week the coach takes Tony aside and tells him that maybe he should consider pulling the kid out of little league. His hand-eye coordination isn’t that great and he’s not really suited to organized sports. The kid just ain’t that much of a team player.
Tony reasonably argues his case. The kid’s 12 for chrissakes. No 12-year-old plays like a pro.
The coach keeps making excuses like the wuss he is and Tony knows he’s being fed a line of bullshit and he says so.
He grabs the kid and yanks him to the car as they leave before the game starts. Kid knows better than to say anything.
The kid’s gone sullen. It was a sudden thing, too. One day he’s acting like he’s got shit for brains, the next day it’s like someone has yanked his batteries.
While Tony likes the fact that the kid learned how to keep quiet and stay out of his way, he doesn’t like the pissy attitude that goes with it. The kid comes home from school and walks straight to his room without a word, do not pass go, do not collect $200. He stays there until dinner, at dinner he silently picks at his food, then he goes back to his room.
If Tony didn’t know any better, he’d think the kid was sneaking out nights because there are occasionally sounds of movement coming from his room in the wee hours of the morning. Fuck it. The kid’s 16. He’s probably jacking off to skin mags borrowed from that buddy of his, what’s his name…oh yeah, Jesse. Personally, he thinks that Jesse kid is a fag, so the kid probably got the skin mags from somewhere else.
Tony puts up with the kid’s shit for about two weeks.
The kid’s pale and silent as he picks at dinner just like he’s picked at dinner for the past 14 days. His eyes are so bloodshot red that for a brief moment Tony thinks the kid might’ve been smoking weed. He immediately tosses the idea out the second he thinks it because he hasn’t smelled that shit coming from the kid’s room. Besides, usually potheads are all over the food and the kid’s barely eating.
Jessica keeps giving the kid these worried looks before blaming Tony for not doing something. She employs her supersonic drama queen sigh that all but demands he talk to the kid.
Tony clears his throat and asks what the kid’s problem is.
The kid’s head pops up and he blinks quickly. “Nothing. Just…just not hungry is all.”
“You ain’t been hungry for weeks. You’re wasting food and that means you’re wasting my money.”
The kid mutters an apology and concentrates on his food again. The silent act stretches a bit before the kid adds, “Jesse hasn’t been in school for two weeks.”
“What happened?” Jessica asks.
Tony is pretty sure he imagined the kid’s wince, but he definitely notices the kid hunching lower over the table. “His mom thinks he ran away.” The kid says it like he doesn’t want to believe it’s true.
“He’ll crawl back when he gets hungry and he’s got a choice between starving and peddling ass,” Tony states.
The kid looks at Tony like he forgot how to speak English. There’s a frown line between the kid’s eyebrows, but other than that there’s a definite sense of no comprende.
“Honey, maybe you should let me make you a coffee,” Jessica interrupts.
“I’ll have another beer,” Tony says while he keeps his eyes on the kid. Son of a bitch. The kid ain’t been smoking weed. He’s been staying holed up in his room and crying like a pussy because his bud took a powder.
“He’s never coming back,” the kid says. His expression crumbles a little. “Don’t you get it? He’s gone. He’s never coming back and I—” He pushes back from the table and looks like he’s going to be sick. “I can’t do this. I can’t do this any more. I have to go.”
“Sit your ass down,” Tony orders.
The kid makes a move to stand. “I really have to—”
Tony’s out of his chair and he’s behind the kid. He forces him to remain sitting by placing two meaty hands on the kid’s shoulders and pushing down. “You have to what?” Tony asks. “Go in your room and cry some more? What are you? Some little girl who pissed her pants?”
“Fuck you,” the kid snarls.
Tony reacts on instinct and cracks the kid hard across the back of his head. The kid’s head snaps forward. He’s smart enough to keep his head down.
Tony sits back in his chair and points a fork at the kid. “In this house, you owe me a little respect, and that starts with not giving me your smart mouth. Save it for your buddies. I ain’t your buddy, got me?”
The kid slowly turns to face him. For the first time, Tony sees pure rage in those hazel eyes. The kid’s lips have disappeared into a line and his face is deathly pale, like something has drained all the blood from his body.
Tony reaches out and smacks the kid again, just in case he gets any ideas about taking a swing at him. There can be only one head of the household and this kid ain’t it.
The kid hunches closer to his dinner plate and keeps his eyes fixed on the moo goo gai pan.
“Eat it,” Tony orders.
“I’m not hungry,” the kid quietly says.
“Tony, just let him go. If he’s not hungry, he’s not hungry,” Jessica says.
“No. He’s going to sit there until he cleans his plate.” Tony is adamant. They spent good money for dinner and the kid is going to eat it even if he has to shove the food down the kid’s throat himself.
The kid’s hand slowly sneaks to the table and he picks up a fork. He gives Tony another look, this one almost pleading.
“Go on. Eat it,” Tony says.
The kid digs in, mechanically shoving food in his mouth at an ever-faster pace until the plate is clean.
“Now you can go do whatever it is you do in that room of yours,” Tony says.
The kid reminds him of a marionette with tangled strings as he stiffly gets up from his chair and jerkily leaves the kitchen.
“Don’t you dare slam that bedroom door,” Tony shouts after him.
There’s silence until they hear the bedroom door close. The kid knows better than to slam it after Tony’s warning.
“You were a little hard on him,” Jessica spits.
“Don’t you fucking start, Jessica.”
“He wasn’t hungry. He’s upset.”
“He’s too fucking sensitive.”
“This is the first time one of his friends has run away.”
“Yeah? Well, he needs to toughen the hell up. Jesus, how many kids in this town run away? Not like it’s something new.”
The conversation goes downhill after that.
Later that night, Jessica finally forgives his sorry ass and she decides that he doesn’t have to sleep on the couch. As Tony staggers past the bathroom on his way to bed, he swears he can hear the kid throwing up behind the closed door.
Seems like the kid’s hanging with a new bunch of friends. That Willow is probably the only old friend he’s still got. Tony has seen her mooning after the kid and thanks god the kid doesn’t notice it. She’s a Jew, she ain’t all that in the looks department, and half the time she can barely string two words together. Tony blames her egghead parents for her lack of social skills.
However, he’s hearing a bunch of new names when the kid is on the phone. There’s some girl with the name of Buffy. Tony can’t believe that someone would name their kid Buffy. Her parents were probably hippie freaks and were stoned when they named her.
There’s also someone named Giles. Someone else named Oz, as in Wizard of. Someone else called Angel, which just screams ‘wetback’ to Tony. The kid also talks about some teacher with his buddies on the phone, a Ms. Calendar. Her name comes up so often that Tony’s pretty sure the kid’s panting after teacher.
Then one day a new girl’s on the phone. Cordelia. As in Cordelia-fucking-Chase. The kid always disappears in his room with the phone when she calls. Tony doesn’t believe for one second she’s spreading her legs for the kid. A sweet piece of ass like that? Not a chance. Even so, he can more than see why the kid’s interested. Although what the hell a rich bitch like her would want with the kid, Tony has no fucking clue.
None of them ever stop by, well, except for Willow, but she’s always been around. He’s seen the Buffy chick — who is as blonde and as much of an airhead as her name suggests — in passing. She’s stopped by a few times to pick the kid up for one thing or another. The kid practically pushes Buffy out of the house after five minutes.
Cordelia he’s only seen through the front window. She sits in her car, checking her make-up in the rearview mirror while she’s waiting for the kid to barrel out the front door. Never even gets out of the car, which would at least be the polite thing to do since she’s sitting in front of his house.
It eventually occurs to Tony that maybe she stays out there because the kid told her to. The kid’s probably ashamed of him and doesn’t want him to meet his friends.
Well, the feeling’s mutual.
The kid’s into something bad, but he doesn’t figure the kid’s involved with the town’s PCP trade. Kid doesn’t have the kind of balls that’s necessary to play with the nasty characters involved in that kind of shit, Tony knows that much.
Whatever it is, it’s bad news, he can tell. The kid is constantly sneaking out at night and coming in at all hours of the early morning. While the kid was never the sharpest pencil in box, his grades have slowly sunk over the course of high school to the point where he’s graduating by the skin of his teeth. Plus, the kid is getting into fights, as unbelievable as that is. Judging by the state of some of his clothes, Tony bets the kid’s at the losing end more often than not. That’s probably the only reason why he hasn’t gotten a call from the school about it
One time the kid came home with a cast, right when Tony was in between jobs, which meant no health insurance and that meant he was stuck paying the whole fucking bill. And no, he didn’t believe the kid when he claimed he was trying to break up a fight and accidentally got hit with a baseball bat.
There’s been a few times Tony’s found the kid’s clothes in the trash out back while tossing the garbage. The clothes are always covered in something. Sometimes it’s this clear goo, other times the color is green, a few times pink, and once Tony swore he saw purple. He never takes too close a look because the smell is enough to make him puke.
One night the kid shows up at the dinner table with bruises around his neck looking shocked and glassy-eyed.
“When did that happen?” Tony asks.
The kid startles and mumbles something about last night and him being with some friends when this fight started…a stumbling, half-assed excuse that is so pathetic that Tony tunes it out halfway through.
“You have to go to the hospital?” Tony asks.
The kid blinks and numbly says he didn’t.
Thank god. Tony can’t afford to fit a frigging hospital bill into the household budget. He punches a fork in the kid’s general direction and starts asking some questions. “What do you get up to at night?”
“Don’t give me that. You’re going out. Where are you going?”
“You show up with bruises, broken bones, you’re throwing clothes covered with god knows what in the trash and you’re doing nothing and going nowhere? Stop yanking my dick and telling me that you thought you were milking a cow.”
“I’m not doing anything.”
“Oh, well excuse me. I must have misunderstood with all the sneaking out, and you hiding ruined clothes, and the bruises around your neck.”
The kid looks surprised that Tony noticed.
“Honey, I keep finding bloodstains in your clothes,” Jessica says. “Are you in trouble? Do you need our help?”
“He got himself into it, he should get himself out,” Tony says.
“Tony,” Jessica says meaningfully.
“Ma, it’s okay,” the kid says.
Tony smiles and says to Jessica, “He’s your son through and through, that’s for goddamn sure. Mr. Martyr over here. Maybe we should hand him a crown of thorns.” He sips from his beer to make his point.
Jessica’s mouth pinches into a bitchy bow.
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” the kid insists. “Hey, look at it this way. I’ll be graduating in a few months, assuming I survive that long, and then you’ll never see me again.”
“Watch your tone, young man,” Tony snaps at the kid.
The kid immediately looks down and mumbles an apology.
“Finish dinner,” Jessica says to the kid. “It’s getting cold.”
The kid does as his mother tells him without another word. Instead of going to his room, he grabs a coat and marches out the front door as bold as you please.
The second the front door closes, Jessica rounds on him for hurting her baby’s feelings.
Tony doesn’t take it lying down, that’s for damn sure.
After all, the kid’s Jessica’s responsibility; it never was supposed to be his and he got stuck with it for 18 frigging years. Only reason why the kid’s still under his roof is because Tony extracted a promise out of the kid that he’d leave the day after graduation. If it weren’t for that promise, plus the fact he needed to keep the peace with Jessica, Tony would’ve tossed the kid’s sorry ass out on his birthday back in December.
Over the summer while the kid is gone, things improve for Tony by leaps and bounds. He lands a new sales job and racks up the commissions and bonuses. He’s on such a roll with the money that any more of this he’ll be getting rich selling ice cream to Eskimos.
He and Jessica are getting along better than they have in years. Just the other night they were laughing and talking in bed like they never left high school. He’d forgotten how beautiful Jessica was in the dim light and how her smile always made his stomach do a barrel roll. It’s like he’s going through a second honeymoon.
His life is going so good that Tony really doesn’t need to take the edge off. That’s not saying that life is stress-free, but his luck is turning and he is finally hitting that smooth patch. About friggin’ time he got his piece.
He forgot that it couldn’t last.
Tony pulls into the drive, gets out of the car, and breathes in the late summer air. He thinks he might sweep Jessica away this weekend, maybe go up the coast to some motel and pretend they’re both getting a bit of strange on the side.
He’s halfway to the door when he sees the junk car parked in front of the house. He stops and gives it the curious once-over. Doesn’t look familiar. Probably belongs to someone visiting the neighbors. Still, it pisses him off that someone parked that piece of shit in front of his house. People might think it belongs there.
He whistles his way through the front door and shouts that he’s home.
Jessica materializes in the kitchen door. She’s pale and wringing her hands.
“Honey?” Tony asks. “Honey, what is it?”
Over her shoulder, he can see someone sitting at the kitchen table with their head in their hands.
No, he thinks. No, things were just getting good. He wouldn’t dare. He wouldn’t.
Tony shoves his way past her and sees that the uninvited guest is the kid himself.
The kid hops out of his chair and stands with his head down and hands in his pockets. His shoulders are hunched and he shuffles nervously from one foot to the next. He looks pale, dusty, tired, and just plain old worn out.
Tony wants him to leave and tells the kid to hit the road.
The kid hunches his shoulders a little more and he looks to Jessica for a reprieve.
“Tony, he’s got nowhere to go and he doesn’t have any money to go anywhere,” Jessica pleads. “We can’t just chuck him into the street. What will people say if they see he’s sleeping in that car?”
The kid acts like he’s been shot, but he quickly recovers and waits with bowed head and nervous fidgeting.
Tony asks the kid if he needs to take a piss.
The kid shakes his head no.
“Then stop that twitching. You’re making me agitated.”
The kid sits down in a chair and tries to force himself to sit still, but Tony just knows that one of the kid’s legs is jiggling with nerves.
“So, you’ve come crawling back,” Tony says. “What happened to our deal?”
“Deal?” Jessica asks as the kid sinks lower into his seat.
“Fucking useless, you know that?” Tony asks to the kid. “Should’ve known you couldn’t cut it.”
The kid closes his eyes and swallows.
“You want back in my nest?” Tony asks the kid.
“What’s this about a deal?” Jessica’s voice is climbing the bitch scale.
“Answer me,” Tony orders the kid. “You want to move back into my house? Do you?”
“I…I just need a place to stay for…I’m out of money,” the kid mumbles. “I promise to leave when I save up enough, but I…I’ve got nothing. Everything I had pretty much went into that car out front.”
“Yeah? Well whatever you paid, you got took,” Tony snarls.
“Tony,” Jessica snaps. “What deal?”
Tony jerks his head at the kid. “The deal where he does the manly thing and stops leeching off us.”
“He’s only asking for a helping hand until he gets on his feet,” Jessica says. She draws herself up. “I told him he could stay.”
“You what?” Tony roars.
The kid’s head snaps up and he shrinks backwards. Oh, yeah. The kid knows that whatever Jessica promised doesn’t mean shit if Tony won’t agree to it. He can see the realization dawning on the kid’s face that living out of that shitbox in front of the house is a very real possibility.
Jessica flinches, but Tony can see from the deadly glitter in her eyes that she’s going to make him pay through the dick for this little night’s work. Shit, shit, shit. He’s stuck. If he tosses the kid out on his ass like he deserves, Jessica will fucking hound him until he changes his mind, but the thought of paying one more penny to support the kid sets not at all well with him. As far as he’s concerned, he’s paid far more than his due for keeping the kid fed and clothed. It’s high time for the kid to earn his own fucking keep.
“Fine,” Tony says to the kid. “Fine you can stay, but there are rules.”
The kid gives him a quick nod.
“First, you live in the basement.”
“The basement?” The kid’s mouth drops open.
“You can always sleep in the car,” Tony points out.
The kid attempts a protest. “What’s wrong with my old room?”
“Aren’t you a man now?” Tony sneers. “I’d think you want your place complete with own entrance so your mother and me don’t know when you come and go. Besides, if you fall back into whatever shit you were involved with in high school, I don’t want the cops knocking on my door when they’re looking for you.”
The kid sends a silent appeal to his mother with a look.
“We’ll talk about it,” Jessica says.
“Not open for negotiation,” Tony insists.
Jessica’s eyes narrow, but Tony knows that she knows from the tone of his voice that she’s got zero wiggle room.
He smiles at her. “You want me to help your son? I got ground rules. And that’s the first one.”
“There’s more?” the kid quietly asks.
“Rent,” Tony announces. “I’m not going to support your lazy ass any more. I expect to be paid $250 a month for the right to park your ass in the basement. You want food? That’s another $35 a week. You want to use our bathroom? That’s another $35 a week for water usage.”
The kid’s shoulders keep slumping further and further down as he listens to the list. On the last item, he asks, “To use the bathroom? You’re charging me for using the bathroom?”
“There’s a shower stall and toilet in the basement,” Jessica says.
“Does either one even work?” the kid asks.
“You’re going to find out,” Tony says. “I’m not finished. To use the bathroom in the basement, I want $20 a week to cover water use. If your mother does your clothes, it’ll be $5 a load. Do it yourself, I expect $2.50 a load. To park that piece of shit in my driveway, I want $10 a week.”
“Any other charges?” the kid asks.
“Nope. That about covers it,” Tony says. “If something comes up, I’ll let you know.”
“When do you want me to start paying? I don’t have any money at all,” the kid says.
Tony agrees to waive the rent and fees for a month, but it’s a temporary reprieve. He stresses to the kid that he expects this month’s rent, as well as all applicable charges, to be paid in full by the end of November.
The kid slowly picks up his duffle bag, slings it over his shoulder, and keeps his head bowed as he walks out of the kitchen. As the kid walks by Tony, he grabs the kid’s arm and the kid stops. He doesn’t look at Tony and instead resolutely stares at the floor while he waits.
“The free ride is over,” Tony says. “I paid for your ass for 18 years, now it’s time you pull your own weight. I’m through tossing money at you. Do you understand?”
The kid doesn’t look at him, but he gives a slight nod.
“Now, I think you owe me a thank you for letting you stay,” Tony points out. “We had a deal and I let you out of it.”
The kid looks at him like he can’t believe Tony just said what he did.
“Say thank you to your father,” Jessica prompts.
The kid closes his eyes and he bows his head like he just wants to cry. Tony didn’t think it was possible for the kid to look even more defeated than he already did. The kid breathes hard for a few seconds and Tony figures he’s thinking again about sticking around.
The kid finally mumbles, “Thank you.”
Tony lets his hand drop and the kid walks past him with head still down. He immediately heads for the basement door instead of his old room. At least the kid knows better than to even ask, let alone assume, that Tony would let him slide for even one night.
This wasn’t exactly the outcome Tony wanted. What he wanted was for the kid to yank his arm out of his grip, tell him to fuck off, and leave never to be seen again. The only good thing about this situation that Tony can see is that there’ll be a little extra money coming into the house. Plus, there is no way the kid is going to stay for more than a few months before he gets sick of being dinged for every little thing, up to and including breathing the oxygen.
Tony’s pretty sure the situation will resolve itself given enough time. All he needs to do is kick back, come up with a few more outrageous fees, and wait.
Jessica is glaring at him and there’s smoke coming out of her ears. Tony knows he won’t be getting any sweet loving any time soon, thanks to the kid.
Fucking kid. Always has to ruin a good thing.
Over the next few months, Tony’s life falls to pieces. He thinks the kid might be responsible in some way, which on some level he knows is a stupid idea. He had his smooth run; now he’s in a bad patch.
Yet, the idea that the kid is his personal black cat sinks into his brain and doesn’t let go. He almost swears that the kid brings him bad luck. Whenever the kid’s around, Tony’s life goes into the toilet so the universe can take a shit on his head. It’s like a curse. He’s even got evidence. The three-plus months the kid was gone were the best months in Tony’s life since he graduated high school.
Rory shows up on the doorstep a few weeks after the kid does. Turns out he finally got out of jail from his DUI and discovered that he was broke and out of a place to live. He winds up in the kid’s old room because, hey, Rory. Can’t turn him away. The kid clearly resents the fact that Rory gets his old room and that Rory ain’t paying any rent. Fuck it. Rory’s a guest, so who gives a shit what the kid thinks.
Much as Tony loves Rory, he feels crowded by the other man’s presence. Rory takes up too much space with his schemes and dreams and never-ending streams of bad jokes as he sprawls out on the couch, help wanted ads forgotten and tossed on the living room floor while he watches Wheel of Fortune or The Price is Right or some talk show scream fest on the boob tube while he sucks from a bottle of schnapps. Tony does hint around that maybe Rory needs to get back on his feet really soon because the guy’s eating him out of house and home. Plus the sheer amount of alcohol flowing through his veins on a nightly basis while he keeps up with Rory has resulted in some very brutal days after. He’s not young anymore and it’s taking him longer and longer to recover from a good old-fashioned binge.
Jessica and he are constantly on the outs again.
His once-golden sales touch is faltering and he’s having a harder time making his nut.
Thank god the kid is paying his rent and all his fees. Given the way his life is going, Tony isn’t sure how he’d make the budget otherwise. If there was at all one good thing he could say about having the kid around, that would be the one good thing.
And the only good thing, he might add.
The kid’s found himself a piece of ass. First time Tony saw her, he had to rub his eyes and take a closer look because this one was smoking hot. There was no way in hell something that looked like that would touch the kid with a ten-foot pole. Then she opened her mouth. Five minutes after she starts talking — which involved some long convoluted explanation on how her parents named her Anya — Tony figures out the real deal. The girl is a retard, which explains a whole hell of lot.
He tends to avoid Anya as much as possible when she comes over. There’s only one thing worse than her being retard and that’s the fact that the kid is taking advantage of a retard under his roof. Sometimes when he gets a before-bed beer to help him sleep, he can hear the kid screwing her to the mattress through the basement door.
Yeah, well, the kid better just hope she doesn’t come up pregnant, because then the fun and games would be over. Then again, if she did turn up pregnant, chances were pretty good she wouldn’t peg the guy living in a basement with only a high school education and a series of minimum-wage jobs on his resume. Oh, no. Good bet she’d go out and screw someone with a real future and then blame the whole thing on that other guy.
He also suspects that she’s not the only person the kid’s screwing. There’s some skinny blond guy that follows the kid home on occasion who looks like he thinks he’s a bad ass. Tony can tell this blonde guy thinks so because he dresses head-to-toe in leather and walks around with a permanent sneer on his face. He doesn’t entirely like the way the guy looks at the kid when they enter through the backyard transom into the basement.
Turns out the kid’s bit of strange involves men. Terrific. The kid’s a fag and he’s bringing his fag friends here.
Jessica says he’s overreacting, and even if it was true, it’s probably just a phase. Besides, Anya is almost always over, so it seems to her that Tony’s overreacting. She renders these pronouncements in that drunken circular reasoning that she’s so good at when she’s had too much wine.
Tony doesn’t think so. He doesn’t think Jessica’s worried enough.
For one thing, the kid’s screwing a retard, which means she probably wouldn’t notice any signs that the kid was getting some on the side, especially if it involved dick. A woman with a full deck would probably figure it out pretty quick. For another thing, the blonde guy has been around several times and not once has the kid taken him through the house. They always enter the basement by the entrance that would take them directly from the backyard. Plus, the blonde guy always stays not just overnight, but through the whole next day while the kid’s at work. The retard’s never around when the blonde guy is over, so right there that tells Tony something.
Really, all Tony sees are big red flags waving in his face, but Jessica would never believe her precious baby likes it up the ass.
Tony finally confronts the kid with it when he pays his weekly fees on Friday. Truthfully, he didn’t want to say anything, but he’s still nursing a hangover from the night before and three cans representing the hair of the dog that bit him isn’t doing a damn thing for his pounding headache. It doesn’t help his state of mind that he saw the blond guy leaving the house wearing one of the kid’s obnoxious shirts a few days ago, which can only be taken as a bad sign.
“This ain’t a whorehouse,” Tony remarks as he counts the money, “so I’d like you to stop treating it like one.”
The kid nervously licks his lips. “I’ll tell Anya not to come over so much.”
“Anya ain’t the problem. You can fuck her all you want for all I care,” Tony says. “Just make sure to keep the cock under wraps if you don’t want to get stuck with a brat. If she turns up pregnant, you’re out. I ain’t putting up with no screaming baby at my age. I had to do it once and it was more than enough, hear me?”
The kid blushes three shades of scarlet. “So I don’t understand the problem.”
“I want you to stop bringing your ‘men friends’ here. Bad enough that I know what you’re doing, but I don’t have to put up with you doing it under my roof.”
“Hunh?” The kid’s good. He’s got that whatchyootalkinabout look down cold.
“Your little leather buddy. Yeah. Don’t look so shocked. I’ve seen you sneaking him in through the back. I know he stays the night and sometimes hangs out down there the next day waiting for you to get home.”
“Spike? You think I’m…that I’m…with Spike?”
Spike. Jesus Christ. Between the leather, the pretty boy look, and the name, this Spike sounds like he probably has a pink triangle tattooed on his ass. Also, with a name like Spike, that pretty much tells Tony that the kid’s the one getting impaled like he’s the one with the pussy.
“Don’t even try to lie to me,” Tony tells the kid. “I got eyes. You want to play reindeer games with the boys you do it somewhere else, got me?”
“I’m not,” the kid shakes his head. “He’s a…well…he’s someone I know, that’s all. He’s down on his luck and, ummm, some friends of mine are trying to sort of, kind of, help and—”
“Don’t give me that,” Tony tells the kid. “You don’t have any friends.”
The kid clenches his jaw and looks down.
“You got that girlfriend of yours and that’s about it. Hell, even Willow ain’t been around and she used to be on you like lint, so don’t give me that bullshit,” Tony says. “I’m not interested in hearing your fake sob story that you’re trying to help out a ‘friend.’ I don’t want to see him around no more. You get your bit of cock somewhere else.”
The kid’s face is sunburn red by the time Tony’s done and when he answers, his voice is low and furious. “You won’t see him again.”
“Glad we understand each other,” Tony says. “And you owe me another hundred bucks.”
The kid’s head snaps up. “What? Why? I already paid you everything I owe.”
“Fees,” Tony says. “For all the times when your boyfriend stayed over. He was using electricity and water. Someone’s got to pay for that.”
The kid’s jaw juts out and for a moment Tony thinks that this is it. He’s finally pushed the kid over the line and he’s going to walk.
“I’ll pay you in two weeks,” the kid finally says.
“Next week,” Tony counters.
“But—” the kid begins.
“Not negotiable,” Tony states.
Jesus, the kid’s turned into a fat fuck.
Given the harpy he’s about to marry, it’s no wonder. Although Tony’s anti-harpy poison of choice is beer while the kid employs the see food diet.
Get it? Get it? See food, Tony mirthlessly thinks as he watches the kid shove something else in his mouth. Dear god in heaven, the kid hasn’t stopped chewing since he and Anya walked into the house. He’s frigging worse than Rory. He almost went broke keeping Rory fed before he finally moved out to some trailer park outside of Santa Barbara. Kid’s eating like he’s trying to break Rory’s year-long grocery bill in one sitting.
While Jessica coos over the bridal magazines, Tony can hear Anya skillfully angling for yet another donation from Chez Harris. Did he actually once think Anya was a retard? It’s hard for Tony to believe he did now that he’s experienced Anya’s expert picking of his pockets. Still, there’s no denying there’s something wrong with her, but that’s probably due to the fact that she’s descended from a long line of circus freaks.
Despite that, he still doesn’t get why Anya is so into the kid, especially given the way he’s bloated up over the past few months. She’s still a hot piece of ass and could probably land herself some good-looking rich guy, assuming she could keep her mouth shut long enough to march down the aisle and could talk the poor bastard out of making her sign a prenup.
The kid’s watching Anya with nervous eyes and Tony can see the kid wants to get married about as much as he wants to be slowly tortured to death. It’s no mystery why he’s going to march down the aisle anyway. One, the kid’s gotta know he’s one back injury from permanent workman’s comp, which means less dough to impress the ladies. Two, the kid also knows he’s not going to get a better deal than what he’s got, even if Anya could take over as chief harpy for the lower 48 states.
Assuming the kid manages to keep it together until the wedding day, Tony figures the marriage won’t even last five years. Anya will probably conclude pretty quickly that she got a bum deal and will leave as soon as she gets a better offer.
Tony downs his shot. The sooner they get this wedding business over with, the better. Although to be honest, he’s not sure how he’s going to take the whole “Grandpa Harris” thing that he just knows Anya’s going to enforce. Since she’s an orphan, Tony figures Anya’s going to be shaking him and Jessica down to “help the baby” every chance she gets. Doesn’t help that Tony just knows Jessica’ll be sneaking money and presents to the kid for his kid, no matter what Tony says about it. He can feel his blood pressure rise at the thought.
“What’s she talking you into paying for now?” Tony demands.
Jessica and Anya look up from the bridal magazines.
“She’s not,” the kid quickly says. “Right, Ahn?”
“Well, actually, this bouquet is exactly the one I want,” Anya holds up the magazine picture so Tony and the kid can see it. “You know the one that looks like flowers are spilling out of it and—”
“Ahn,” the kid winces. “I thought we agreed—”
“But I really want this one. It’s perfect. It has white and red roses.” Anya gets a dreamy smile on her face. “It’s symbolic.”
“Symbolic,” Tony snorts.
“Tony,” Jessica intones. She turns to Anya and pats her on the hand. “Symbolic of what, dear?”
“Don’t ask, please don’t ask.” The kid looks panicked.
“Oh, you know, the wedding night,” Anya chirps.
The kid lets out a breath. “That answer could’ve been so much worse.”
Anya is practically bouncing in place. “I can’t wait for the wedding. It’s just…just everything. I can’t wait to hear the music and wear my very expensive, but tastefully understated gown and open all the presents, but I especially can’t wait for the Hymen’s Greetings from all my old friends and former co-workers and my old boss. It’s good luck to get Hymen’s Greetings on the wedding day.”
The kid does a spit take with his soda.
“What’s a ‘Hi man’ greeting?” Tony asks. “I thought ‘Hi man’ was a greeting.”
Anya says, “Well, it’s Hymen’s Greetings because—”
“Ahn!” the kid snaps.
The bride-to-be gives him a hurt look.
“Now’s not the time,” the kid says.
“But he asked,” Anya points out with a wounded air.
“Never you mind, dear. I think someone’s suffering the jitters.” Jessica hesitates a bit before adding, “Hymen’s Greetings? My that’s…unusual I guess. Is that a circus thing?”
Anya opens her mouth, but the kid interrupts her with a quick yes. This earns the kid another wounded look from bridezilla, the woman who ate Sunnydale. No, wait. Anya is obviously not eating Sunnydale. The kid on the other hand…
Suddenly, a penny drops in Tony’s slot. Of course. Makes sense given the fact the kid looks trapped as all hell. It also explains why Anya’s actually planning on marrying the useless lump.
“So, how long have you been preggers?” Tony asks.
“Tony!” Jessica snaps.
The kid’s eyes go as wide as saucers, as he turns to look at Anya.
Anya just looks confused.
“You know, knocked up. How far along are you, honey?” Even though he was horrified by the prospect of ‘Grandpa Harris’ just a few minutes before, Tony can’t help but start laughing at the thought of the kid trying to raise a kid.
“Ahn?” the kid’s voice sounds strangled, which only makes Tony laugh harder.
“I’m not pregnant,” Anya says. “We’re not planning on having any pink children until I finish buying out my half of the Magic Box. My silent and absent partner, who is not coming to the wedding because he’s too busy, is being stubborn about signing the paperwork.”
The kid cringes.
“I would like to start a family right away, but someone thinks we need to be more financially settled and own a ranch home before we have pink children to carry on the Harris name.” Anya glares at the kid. “I don’t see the problem. We can always put a baby in the closet.”
Jessica looks horrified.
“We’re not putting a kid in the closet, Ahn,” the kid says.
“I don’t see why not.” Anya seems confused. “It’s a big closet, and you said yourself that it’s only called a closet because there are no windows. It’s a lot bigger than our bathroom, which if you ask me means that it’s not really a closet but a small room without windows.”
“There’s no ventilation in that room, so we can’t put a kid in there.” The kid says it with a weary air, like he’s had this discussion a few thousand times before.
“We could just open the door,” Anya says.
“Ahn, please, not now,” the kid pleads.
“Well, the fact is that someone doesn’t want children right now so we are not having children right now. Someone wants to have a ranch home first, so we’re going to wait until we have a ranch home first. But we can’t get the ranch home until I finish buying out my half of the Magic Box, which I can’t do because I can’t reach my partner on the phone,” Anya explains.
“In a nutshell in case you missed it, no, Anya’s not pregnant,” the kid says.
“I better get pregnant soon, though,” Anya interjects, “because these ovaries are not getting any younger and all the magazines say that the older you get the harder it is to conceive.”
Tony grins as he pours himself another shot of Southern Comfort while he watches the kid pinch the bridge of his nose like he’s got a raging headache. Appears Anya always has to get in the last word. Oh, yeah. Not only is this marriage not going to last, it’s going to be pure hell on the kid while it does.
Payback’s a bitch, Tony thinks with satisfaction as he downs his shot. Don’t come crawling to me when it all falls apart, because the bank will be officially closed once this wedding is over.
Fuck it. Let Jessica have her fun. They’ve already paid for the bar, rent on the space, the minister, and the musicians. She might as well pay for the wedding bouquet. Anything to give the kid a taste of what he’s had to put up with for 21 fucking years.
It’s been almost two weeks since the “wedding.”
Wedding, now there’s a laugh, Tony bitterly thinks. He figured the kid would take off before the march down the aisle, or failing that, end up a bitter divorced dad with killer alimony and child-support payments. He never in a million would’ve guessed that the kid would jilt bridezilla on the actual wedding day.
He might as well have flushed all that fucking money down the toilet. He and Jessica can’t even get a partial refund on the dough they shelled out because everyone except the groom was present and accounted for. Plus, the lodge had the nerve to present him with a bill for “damages.” Jesus! He didn’t see any of her people getting any bills and they’re the ones who should be paying because they started the brawl. That guy with the tentacles threw the first punch. He doesn’t care what anyone says.
Naturally, neither the kid nor Anya could be found after the horror show, so all Tony can do is simmer and stew on the unpaid bills. There’s no fucking way he’s going to be the one paying for this. Unh-unh. They couldn’t get their shit together, so they should pay the balance. Even better, he should be reimbursed for all the money he plunked down.
Tony had driven by the kid’s apartment several times in the intervening weeks, but there was no car and no sign that anyone was home. He even went to that witch shop Anya owns — excuse me, part owns — to see if he could get some satisfaction. All he got was a ‘closed’ sign and some bitchy regular in desperate need of razorblade for her legs and a man to fuck hanging around in front of the closed storefront complaining that the shop hadn’t been open for more than a week.
He’s ready to give up, but Jessica squealing over the phone with Carol is enough to prompt him to try one more time. It turns out Carol has started dating that Kevin guy, the one with the skin condition and the circus job. Bad enough that the kid almost married into circus geeks, now he’s faced with the prospect of blood kin marrying into the shallow end of the gene pool.
The way Tony sees it, the kid owes him money just for pain and suffering alone. If it wasn’t for that wedding, Carol wouldn’t have met the circus geek, and he wouldn’t be faced with the prospect of having to look at the guy’s ugly face again. The idea of Carol screwing anyone, let alone a warty loser who looks like he should be in a zoo, is enough to make him want a beer so he could drown the picture out of his head.
When Tony turns the corner, he sees the kid’s car parked in front of his apartment building and lets out a whoop of triumph. Looks like he’s getting his satisfaction after all.
Tony quickly parks the car, runs into the vestibule with his head down on the off chance the kid might be looking out a window, and checks the doorbell tags to find the kid’s apartment number. The last time — the only time — he was here, he had been more than a little drunk already since he started the celebrating early. About all he remembers is that there was some stairs involved to get to the kid’s place, but that’s about it.
He groans when he sees the number on the tag. Figures the fucking kid would pick the very top floor. A quick search tells him that not only does the kid live on the top floor, he lives in a building with no elevator. Jesus, he doesn’t remember it being this involved to get to the kid’s front door. He must’ve been truly wasted the day the kid managed to fuck up his own wedding.
On the second floor some nosy old broad marches out of her apartment, takes one look at him, and demands to know who he is and what business he has in the building. Tony tries to ignore her as he brushes past, but she threatens to call the cops, so he’s forced to tell her that he needs to get to the kid’s apartment.
Just like that the old broad smiles and pats his arm. “Such a nice boy,” she says. “Always offering to help me bring in the groceries when he sees me. Always holds open the doors. Such a gentleman. Such a shame what happened.” The broad looks around and leans in, breathing garlic fumes up in his face. “I tell you, it’s that girl of his. Always so rude, never willing to lift a pinky unless there’s something in it for her. Whatever went wrong, she started it. I know it. Never saw what he saw in her at all. Not at all.”
A few bon mots about how wonderful the kid is later and Tony manages to escape. By the time he makes it to the kid’s door, annoyance has long outrun angry and is now heading into furious. Even though he’s still breathing hard with the stair-climbing effort, he pounds on the door. He hears rustling inside and the sound of something being knocked over.
He pounds again, yelling, “I want to talk to you.”
The door flies open, revealing the bleary-eyed kid himself. It looks like he just threw the jeans on since the top button is unbuttoned and the fly is partially undone. Tony winces at the flabby expanse of pale, exposed flush that passes for the kid’s torso from the waist up. He smells like sweat, dirt, vomit, and booze.
“Perfect.” The kid practically belches the word and Tony’s forced to wave a hand in front his nose because of the smell. He figures if he lit a match and held it in front of the kid’s open mouth, the flame would turn blue.
The kid wobbles a bit before he slumps against the doorframe. As he takes a swig from a beer can, Tony catches a glimpse of the apartment beyond. There’s empties everywhere and it looks like someone has trashed the place.
The kid looks at him expectantly with bloodshot hazel eyes for a moment before asking, “Well? Waddya wan’?’
Tony gets straight to the point. “You owe me money.”
“Oh? Dis oughtta be good.”
“The wedding. I paid for that and now I’m being presented with more bills for damages because of a fight her people started. I want my money back and I want you to take over the rest of the payments.”
The kid leans forward slightly and clutches the doorframe to steady himself. “So file a complaint with the Betta Buzen…Bizen…Bizen…where people get money back.”
“Contracts. They got me dead-to-rights and since my name’s on the credit card slips, I have to pay.” Tony pokes a finger in the kid’s exposed chest. “The way I figure it, you should pay.”
The kid is so busy staring at where Tony poked him, that for a second Tony isn’t sure that anything he’s said has even registered.
The kid starts giggling and waving a finger at him. “Ah nah. I don’ need this right now. Tony, Tony, Tony, you are soooooo far down on my lischt of problems that you? You not even in tha same area code. You not on tha planet. You not even in tha universe. Jus’ sayin’.”
Tony clenches his fists so hard that he can feel the nails biting into the palms of his hands.
“See?” the kid waves a hand around him as he unsteadily turns and weaves deeper into the apartment. He tosses the beer can in the direction of the kitchen. “Ahn-ya a’ready got herself a li’l orgasm buddy.” He spins around to face Tony and momentarily loses his balance. He catches himself before he topples over. “Body not even cold. Nothin’. Goes right fer tha evil undead. You think screwing a corpse woul’ be…I dunno…yuck? But you guess wrong!”
Tony could not have heard right. Anya was into screwing the dead? Just how bad was the kid in bed? And where do you go to screw dead people? The morgue?
“’Cause it turns out bleachie is screwing ’nother friend. Of mine. I think.” The kid gives Tony a puzzled look. “Why you here ’gain?”
“Money. That you owe me,” Tony growls.
“So he’s screwin’ Ahn-ya. He’s screwin’ Buf-fy. Only reason he’s not screwin’ Willow is ’cause she’s gay now. Which she tells me. All tha time. I get it! I get it! I heard ya tha firs’ tree thousan’ times. Jeez.” The kid frowns. “Or maybe that why she gay now. Took him fer a spin an’ he put her offa men.” He nods sagely, like he’s finally figured out the secret of the universe. “Coul’ be. Coul’ be.”
“About that money—” Tony begins.
“He’s a pervert,” the kid declares like he’s received a truth from on high. “Make sense. Prob’ly checkin’ me out, too. All that, ‘You a nummy treat.’ Oh. Wait. I said that. He said I was…was…not a nummy treat. I think I’m perfectly nummy.” The kid takes an unsteady bow. “His loss.”
Great. Now the kid is going to spill about his fag boyfriends. Jesus, why did these two even think getting close to a preacher was a good idea? He’s into cock; she’s into the dead. Tony just doesn’t want to hear any more.
“Stop. Just stop right there. I don’t care about your fucked-up life. I want my money.”
The kid sneers. “Tough. I don’ got it. Ahn-ya cleaned out tha bank,” he waves a hand as he searches for the word, “stuff. Bank stuff. Where tha money is. You want it? You talk to her. Me? I’m done.”
Tony charges the kid with fist raised, fully intent on beating the money out of him. As drunk as the kid is, he still manages to move fast enough to get out of the way. Tony stumbles over something and next thing he knows he’s pinned to the couch with the kid on top of him.
“I don’ need dis,” the kid wearily breathes, causing Tony to wince from the sour smell of stale booze and vomit. “I think you betta go now befo’ things get really outta control.”
Out of control? Tony wonders as the kid hauls him to his feet. This is already out of control. The conversation is not going as he planned. He figured the kid would hand over the money with no argument, because it’s clear who the injured party is here. What he got was too much information about the kid’s perverted sex life and physically attacked.
The kid pulls Tony’s right arm so far up behind his back that Tony yelps from the pain. The kid’s left hand is clamped so hard around the back of Tony’s neck, that he’s pretty sure there’ll be a hand-shaped bruise there when the kid lets go. He wonders when the hell the kid got so strong as he’s marched out the apartment door. What makes it even more unbelievable is that the kid is managing to physically throw Tony out of the apartment despite the fact the kid’s barely standing upright.
With a final shove from behind, Tony stumbles into the hall. He spins around with a snarl and sees the kid giving him an idiot stare.
“Buh-bye,” the kid waves.
As the kid closes the door, Tony charges again. He isn’t fast enough and he slams right into the unyielding wood. Tony’s shaking with rage as he starts beating and kicking at the door. “Open up you little fucker! Open up! Face me like a man, you fuckwit.”
“Go’way!” a muffled voice yells through the door.
Tony beats harder on the door.
“Dailin’ 911!” the muffled voice announces. “So jus’ keep on bangin’! I gotchyer bangin’ righ’ here.”
Tony backs off. The last thing he needs is a scene. He definitely doesn’t want the police involved. He throws a final punch at the door and yells when his knuckles feel the pain of contact. Tony makes good his escape after that, cradling his injured hand as he double-times his way down the stairs, past the old broad who’s now glaring daggers at him, and out the door to his car.
After he gets in the car and locks all the doors, it takes Tony a good ten minutes before he feels steady enough to drive. The kid probably did Anya a favor by taking off. Even if he isn’t a fag and she isn’t into screwing the dead, the kid is obviously a violent drunk. God knows what Anya had to put up with. In fact, Tony’s now surprised that Anya didn’t leave the kid instead of the other way around.
Jesus. He needs a drink to steady his nerves before he gets home. He’s not sure what’s going to piss Jessica off more: the fact he tried to get her precious baby to pay for his mistake or the fact that the kid refused to pay.
Tony’s riding the blurry edge between buzzed and drunk as he considers his situation. The earthquake didn’t just take his home and everything he owned, it also managed to suck down a town’s worth of memories and a good chunk of his destroyed life.
Tony drinks the dregs from his beer can. True, most of the memories weren’t good ones, but that’s hardly the point. Not that he can figure out what the point is.
Jessica pulls a beer from the case and Tony snarls at her. Jessica shoots him a glare and defiantly pops the can open.
“Slow down,” Tony says with exaggerated care. “We gotta make this last. We don’t wanna be buying a case a day. Gotta make the emergency money last.”
“It’s just a beer,” Jessica pouts.
“You’ve had four already,” Tony points out.
“Yeah?” Jessica sneers. “Well you’ve had six.”
Tony sighs. Jessica is an idiot when it comes to finances, as evidenced by the fact that she always spends more money than they have in the budget. Since appealing to frugality is out, Tony decides to employ logic. “I earned the money to buy the beer, I’m bigger than you, so I should get more beer.”
Jessica opens her mouth, but whatever she’s about to say is interrupted by a knock on the door. The two of them freeze and exchange looks. Without so much as a word, Jessica shoves what’s left of the case under the bed while Tony gathers up the empties and throws them in a wastebasket under the desk. They’ve already had to endure sermons from some folks in the Salvation Army and other assorted holy-rollers bearing emergency care packages. True, it may be some Red Cross worker who doesn’t give a shit, but then again neither he nor Jessica needs some Christian soldier lecturing them about the evils of demon rum.
“Coming!” Jessica yells. “Hold on for one minute!”
She opens the door and with a cry throws herself at the person on the other side.
Continued in Cuckoo in the Nest: The Future