It had been an average day when it happened. Around eight that morning, ten men and three women found themselves in a misty void with nothing else in it but each other. Except for Henry. Henry lived several states away, so for him it was 10 am and he’d been pulled out of work. Disoriented, he looked around for someone he recognized. His eyes fell upon a blond, sharp-featured man. “Sammy? Sammy Lawrence?”
The man looked back at him, confused. “Henry? Why are you here?”
Henry laughed a little. “Good question. Why are we here?”
“No, I mean, why are you here with all of these Joey Drew Studios employees? You’re the odd one out.”
“Oh. Are there any other patterns you’ve noticed?”
Sammy turned away to look at the other eleven, an irritable look on his face. “Not really. We’ve got everyone from Mr. Piedmont to this joker.” He pointed at a lanky, boyish-looking man covered in freckles. The man had previously been chatting with an impish Irishman that Henry didn’t recognize.
“Henry?” Wally said, before tackling Henry with an energetic hug. “Well I’ll be! It must’ve been years since I’ve seen ya! How’s that studio down in California treatin’ you?”
Henry hugged him back. “Oh, it’s treating me well.”
“Where are my manners? It’s nice to see you again, Henry. Did you manage to patch things up with Linda?” Sammy asked, adding “sorry for snapping,” under his breath.
“Yep, we’ve been married a decade. And it’s fine, Sammy. This is a weird situation, and we should try to figure it out so we can get back to our lives. Let’s see... who’s all here?”
Henry could recognize a few people. Grant Cohen, the accountant that Henry had had a hand in hiring, was there. He had not aged well, looked washed out, and was freaking out over the situation, but at least there were some people with him. Henry remembered him as very shy. Beside him was a rather masculine woman Henry didn’t recognize, and Norman Polk, who was attempting to calm him down. Henry shuddered. Well, if Norman was still here, he must not have done anything bad to warrant firing him, at least, Henry figured. And if someone as nervous as Grant was apparently close to the strange, off-putting man, why should he creep Henry out?
A ways away from that, two women were murmuring to each other, confused. A grumpy, muscular man stood behind the brunette, silent and with crossed arms. It looked like two women, anyhow. They were both shapely, beautiful, and on the tall side, with flowing shoulder-length hair. One, however, had some healthy colour to her chestnut hair, grey eyes, and flushed skin. The other woman’s skin was a sickly pale grey, and everything else about her from her eyes to the dress she wore, to the strange scar on her bizarrely thin neck, was ink-black. And she had horns. Something about her clearly wasn’t natural.
Jack Fain was in the middle of the final group of people there, attempting to mediate a lively argument between two men. One of them was a tall, imposing creature in his sixties wearing a top hat. The other was... Oh, God. Henry did not like the look of this. “Joey.”
“Yeah, Joey,” Wally said. “He’s probably the one who brought us here, with all his fancy voodoo. What of it?”
“I just don’t know how to react. We haven’t contacted each other in years.”
“You’re tellin’ me,” Wally’s Irish friend said, “that a fine fellow like you used to be friends with Mr. Drew?"
“Yep,” Henry said, his voice tinged with regret. “I guess I’ll just avoid him. He cut off contact with me when I left. If he wants to reconnect, he can make the first move.”
Henry wondered how his friend had changed over the years. He kept a big smile on his face even as he was all but yelling at the other man, which was no surprise. Joey always seemed cheerful, even when he wasn’t. And he looked as young as ever- no new lines on his face or so much as a single grey in his pitch-black hair. He had, however, lost a good deal of weight and had dark circles under his eyes. He was trying to seem as energetic as ever, but that came off even less genuine than his cheerfulness. It must still have been busy running the studio, because Joey looked drained of life.
Suddenly, a small yellow light flashed above Joey’s head and the room fell silent, all eyes landing on him.
“How dare you lie to the great Bertrum Piedmont?!” the other man boomed at Joey.
“I’m telling you,” Joey snapped, “I didn’t do jack shit!”
Suddenly, the environment changed. The purplish mist cleared to show a darkened studio. What seemed to be a copy of Joey was there, standing before the nozzle of a giant machine, which was making noise as though it was jammed. “What the Hell, Joey!” Shawn whispered.
The Joey clone appeared to get confused and impatient, and went to the back of the machine and tinkered with it a moment, pulling out film that had been caught in the machine. The machine clanked into motion. An inky creature, identifiable as Boris the wolf, fell out of its oversized nozzle moments later and fell to the ground with a splat. Joey approached and helped it up, a look of immense satisfaction on his face. “Well, welcome to the world, Boris.” His tone was gentle and fatherly. Aside from Thomas, who seemingly couldn’t even bring himself to look at the unfolding scene, everyone in the room was awestruck.
The creature looked around, confused and nervous. It held tight to Joey’s hand. Meanwhile, Joey was observing the beast in detail, looking for defects. “Perfect. Oh, don’t shiver. Don’t be scared. I have the perfect place for you to live. With my help, you’re going to make everyone happy.”
The Boris looked at Joey and nodded slightly, seemingly content with the offer. Then all at once, the creature’s demeanour changed. He stared at his paws, and in a panic reached up to feel his ears.
“Oh no. Buddy, is that you?”
The Boris glared at Joey, then grabbed his snout in shock upon realizing that he couldn’t speak.
“Now, Buddy,” Joey began nervously, “It’s okay. I saved-“ he was cut off by a solid blow to the face, knocking him to the ground. The Boris turned and ran in fear. He ran straight into the group, phasing right through Shawn without taking notice. Joey didn’t try running after the Boris, instead just dusting himself off. “So close now,” he whispered, smiling and cupping his now-bleeding face. “Just some personality issues to work out.”
The scene faded back into mist, and the Joey clone went with it.
Nervous chatter rose. “What the Hell was that?!” Lacie demanded, glaring at Joey Drew.
“A memory? Oh, sure. You created a living cartoon character out of some weird machine that looks like it belongs in a sci-fi movie. Just tell us why we’re here already.”
Henry felt someone grab his arm. It was Grant. Grant peered over his shoulder to make sure Joey was out of earshot, then whispered “do you have any idea what he wants to do to us?”
Henry shook his head.
Grant’s eyes darted about, and he let go of Henry’s arm. “Sorry. I just thought, since you used to know him well...”
In that moment, a glowing yellow light appeared over Bertrum’s head and the group fell silent. The scene shifted again.
The group was in what appeared to be a circus tent. A much younger Bertrum was there, having his tie adjusted by an older man with matching reddish brown hair. “Now Son,” The man said in deep, serious voice, “this might be your park. Your first park. But remember that it’s reflecting the entire Colossal Wonders dynasty. I don’t want anyone doubting our future, or my abilities as a parent.”
“You know I won’t disappoint!”
The older man patted his shoulder. “You never have.”
“And if this park does well-“
The older man’s face grew stern. “No, Bertrum. I’m not retiring. You will take this empire when I’m dead. Not that you aren't ready. I’m just not sick of this yet.”
“Right. Of course.”
Bertrum stepped out of the tent. To one side of him was a lovely amusement park, complete with games, clowns, roller coasters, and a giant, clown-themed Ferris Wheel, all well-tested and ready for commercial use. To the other side of him, was a crowd, separated from the fun by a gate. As he approached the gate’s entrance, their cheers grew louder, something that clearly delighted the young man. He accepted the ribbon-cutting scissors and drew them towards the ribbon, causing the crowd to roar louder and louder. Then, with a mischievous smile on his face, he stopped and lifted them back up, causing the crowd to fall silent. He repeated the motion twice more, clearly revelling in the control he had over the crowd as their cheers rose and fell with the scissors. Then, he lifted his arms and yelled, “just messin’ with ya, folks!” before cutting the ribbon in a quick motion. The crowd surged forwards, forcing a very proud Bertrum to move out of the way lest he be crushed.
The scene faded back into purple mist.
Bertrum wiped a tear from his eye. “That, I will admit, was a memory,” he said. The group was silent a while, processing the situation.
“So, these are memories,” Henry mused. “I guess the only thing to do is just to watch everyone’s, then.”
“It could be fun,” Joey said. “Why wouldn’t I want to get to know what makes my studio family tick?”
“It is nice to see that you’ve both made such spectacular things,” Allison agreed.
“And it looks like I’m next,” Sammy said, cupping a golden light in his hands.
The scene changed to that of an elementary school classroom. The children were scribbling in notebooks when the class bell rang, sending them all scampering out the classroom door. All but one: a blond little boy of about eight years. The teacher, a tall, black-haired man in his thirties approached him. “Ready for your music lesson?” he asked.
Sammy nodded in reply, and took a recorder out of his desk.
“Not until you speak to me. One sentence, alright? Say anything you want.”
Sammy froze up. He looked annoyed, but he obliged the teacher. “I’m ready to start.”
“That’s what you said yesterday. But what the heck, I’ll take it. Should we start with the same song as yesterday?”
Sammy nodded and began to play. Everyone in the room who didn’t know Sammy cringed back in anticipation of a small child’s musical talents, but Sammy played fairly well, and extremely well for his age.
The scene changed, and the group was in what looked to be a school music room. Several students were seated there, chattering and in many cases holding instruments. Sammy, looking a little older now and very nervous, peeked in. His teacher was there, as well. “I don’t know about this,” he said.
“Come on! After all that practice?
“What if I embarrass myself?”
“You’re new. No one expects you to be as good as you are. They don’t expect anyone going in there the first time to know anything.”
“Thanks, but... what if I can’t speak?”
The teacher raised an eyebrow. “When’s the last time that happened?”
Sammy thought on that a moment. “Three months ago.”
“That’s a pretty good streak, isn’t it?”
Sammy nodded, though he didn’t look so sure. He went in.
His teacher had been right about one thing: no one expected a new member of an elementary school band to know anything. It was expected that the newbies would have to be taught an instrument before they could play with the older members of the band. The band teacher explained this, Sammy thought on which instrument he’d like to learn.
Sammy had brought along his recorder, on which he was well-practiced. But the novelty of the more impressive instruments was calling him as loudly as the safety it held. He could have chosen his favourite instrument, the banjo. He’d always felt it was a rather embarrassing instrument to play, but if he was going to come out of his shell, he might as well do it all the way. Or, he could choose the most dignified instrument he could think of: the violin. But that would require giving up his advantage over the others. In what was for Sammy a considerable act of courage, ran for it and picked it up as soon as the band teacher allowed them to.
“No running!” The teacher shouted. “Sit down, Sammy, you’ll choose last.” But it was still there for him afterwards.
The scene changed a final time to show Sammy playing the violin on stage with the band. Current-day Sammy Lawrence sat back and smiled with joy and pride as the scene faded back into mist, taking the sound of his violin with it. That teacher who had helped him out of his shell had surely been one of the most important influences in his life, and he was grateful. Susie and Joey lauded some praise on him. He could see similar approval in Henry and Bertrum’s faces, as with most of the faces in the room. All but one.
Grant Cohen gave Sammy a nervous attempt at an approving smile before focusing back onto the blue light he held in his hands. The knots in his guts tightened. Why had the light’s colour only changed for him? And his defining memory- what could it be?
The scene changed, and all eyes in the room shifted to face it. It was a little study nook in the library of Grant’s old university. Grant could see his younger self studying and wearing a hoodie from the university with the hood up because he didn’t want to be bothered, didn’t want to feel seen. Similarly, he hoped that none of his coworkers would recognize him either. The hoodie looked ridiculous with the dress pants he was wearing. He’d made a promise to himself to start dressing for confidence, only to end up bringing along his sweater and spend most of the day hiding behind it, especially during times of stress.
This memory-Grant was sure of what it was now-certainly took place during a time of stress. Finals had been coming up, and he had a 62% average in a required class. The 78% he needed on the final seemed impossible. The stress had been enough to keep him up at night.
“Hmm... where are you, Grant?” Lacie asked through the silence.
“I don’t know. Let’s look,” Grant answered, thankful for the opportunity to hide what was about to happen. He began to lead the others away from the young man he had been, looking into study nooks for a man he could pass off as himself. Then, it happened. Grant heard ragged breathing, followed by a sob. He tried to hurry the others along, it was no use. Henry wanted to investigate. He listened in terror as the breathing grew worse, until he sounded like he was going to choke. Another student got up to investigate, and the thirteen employees followed. The young man was shaking and crying, his hood pulled back now to reveal dull brown hair and spectacles much like Grant’s own. He gave the other student a frozen stare. “Are you okay?” the other student asked.
Grant quickly shook his head. He opened his mouth and found himself unable to speak at first. Finally, words escaped, quietly at first: “I-I need you to call someone!"
A bit stunned, the other student hesitated a moment.
"Go!" He yelled. "I’m having a heart attack! Call someone!”
The student hurried off, presumably to find someone who would know what to do in this situation.
The older incarnation hid his eyes. The young man didn’t know what a panic attack felt like. Grant didn’t need to look to see what would happen next, and prayed that it wouldn’t be shown to the others. He looked up at the shaking young man. The snapped pencil on the desk. The words “I’m going to fail and die” written large over a page of mathematical exercises. His clenched teeth and hand over heart. His body’s reaction to stress making him legitimately terrified for his life.
Thankfully, that’s when the scene faded away. He would have died of embarrassment if it had gone on much longer.
“Buddy. You had a heart attack in your twenties?” Shawn asked.
Grant abjectly pulled his hands over his face, but quickly took them back down and attempted to reclaim his dignity. “No. My first panic attack. I know what they feel like now, see? That’s the only time I ever mistook them for something else.” He heard someone snickering, but didn’t check to see who.
“I’m really sorry that this was your memory,” Lacie said.
“It’s fine. It’s not as though I didn’t know it about myself. Or like I'm having them on a regular basis. It's unimportant”
“Well, congratulations,” Norman said, taking Grant aback.
“Congratulations? For what?”
“For getting into one of the top universities in the state, that’s what.”
“Well, thank you,” he said. It was relieving to know that Norman at least still had a shred of respect for him.
“Plus, you thought you were going to fail. Well, you really showed yourself, now didn’t ya?” Lacie gave his friend a playful punch on the shoulder.
"Okay, this is great and all, but I think we have bigger fish to fry," Thomas cut in. "Some of us are going to have good memories, and some of us are going to have bad memories. So we'd better all hope that we don't have any..." he searched for the right words, "misdeeds we'd rather keep buried. Now tell me honestly, you four," he motioned to Joey, Bertrum, Sammy, and Grant, "were those your absolute best and worst memories, respectively? Or were they just some of them?"
"It was my best, certainly!" Bertrum exclaimed. The other three exchanged awkward glances.
"It's close, but it could be mine," Joey decided.
"It was mine," Sammy decided.
"Probably," Grant decided. In that moment, the light, still floating nearby him, changed colours back to yellow, and the scene changed again.
The group saw Grant, looking not much younger than he had been in the last memory, approaching what must have been his family's house. He looked into the mailbox and pulled out a letter with a university address on it. He hesitated a moment before gently putting it back in the mailbox and heading inside. No need to work himself up about it when he wouldn't have to know for a while. The scene shifted to a few hours later, when the family was having dinner.
"Grant, something came in the mail for you today," his mother said, handing him the envelope.
Grant turned away from it, as though disgusted. "Can I wait to open it since we don't need to know for a while?"
"Just open it. We want to know, too."
Grant sighed and opened it up while averting his eyes. His mother came up behind him and looked over his shoulder. "You got in!"
"What?" He whipped his head back to look at the piece of paper, and a huge smile spread across his face. With that, the scene faded back to mist.
"Wow. So we all get two memories. One good, one bad. You know what that means..." Thomas said. "It means that none of you are out of the woods."
Thomas', Norman's, and Henry's eyes all came to rest upon Joey, though all three wondered if he had enough capacity for guilt to have a wrongdoing as his worst memory. Thomas and Sammy were just as concerned for themselves. No matter what, this would certainly prove to be an illuminating event.
Yeah, I have no idea what I'm doing when it comes to writing Grant. That's why I thought it would be a good idea to get him out of the way early and in a way that would reveal something (that everyone gets two memories). Now buckle up, because we're moving on to characters I know how to work with!
“Wow, So we’re going to see some bad memories, too, eh? That doesn’t have to be all bad. Maybe it’ll help us learn about ourselves and each other,” Jack suggested, smiling but somewhat nervous. Almost everyone in the room was a bit nervous at the idea of having their sins and demons dredged up.
Allison forced a concerned look on her face, but secretly she was interested in what the others might have to hide. The bright light appeared before her, pale yellow. “Yellow means a good memory, right?”
The scene changed to that of a quaint little farm on a summer’s day. Allison was there, looking to be about ten years old. Unlike the previous memories, this one shifted often and didn’t seem to have much of a theme to it. The group saw little Allison gather eggs from the chicken coop, pick raspberries, practice fencing with her little brother (both with sticks in the woods and with actual practice swords in a more formal setting), helping her mother in the kitchen, and feeding and cuddling with some rabbits.
The scene faded back into mist. “Cute,” Jack said. There wasn’t really anything else to say about it.
The light in Allison’s hands changed colours to light blue. “Huh. I guess you were right about everyone getting more than one memory.”
The scene changed back to exactly where it had been before: in the small rabbit hutch. Little Allison was sobbing, and it wasn’t hard to see why. The white rabbit she had seemed so fond of in the last memory was limp and dead in her arms. A man, presumably her father, approached her. “Allie? What’s wrong?” He then caught sight of the dead rabbit. “Oh, sweetheart. You knew this would happen. Y’know, I decided to let you keep some of the rabbits for yourself, I thought you already understood how things were. I mean, you know what we do to them,” he motioned at a larger hutch with more rabbits in it. “You know how rabbit stew is made. And your fencing, you know why that was invented, right?”
His tone wasn’t unfriendly, but that didn’t keep Allison from glaring at him. “This one’s different. She was my favourite. Her name was Snowball.”
“Alright, wrong thing to say. But Allie, it’s time you saw something. Pick your favourite rabbit- other than Snowball- and bring him to the barn once you’re calmed down, alright?”
Allison nodded, then peered into the rabbit cage. Inside was an ash-coloured, floppy-eared rabbit, a white rabbit with black on its ears, nose, and paws, and a calico-coloured rabbit. Her father had allowed her to choose four as a sort of “practice hutch” to take care of, so naturally Allison loved them all. In the end, she picked up the calico rabbit and ran to the barn.
Her father had the table set up there. “Allison, today I’m going to teach you how to butcher a rabbit.”
The look on Allison’s face was so upsetting that Thomas put an arm around present-day Allison. Although, present-day Allison didn’t seem too bothered.
“Alright. Now, physically, this is no different than a chicken,” the man said, handing little Allison an axe and taking her rabbit from her to lay it out on the table. “But I want you to remember this next time you feel like hurting someone to get ahead. Pain is bad, Allison. And there are times it’s necessary or worthwhile, but you won’t be ready to tell the difference until you’ve seen it yourself.”
“Do we have to do it where the cow can see?”
“The cow won’t care. It’s not smart enough to feel bad for the rabbit or connect it to a threat to its life. Now come on. You’ve got this.”
Her father was holding the rabbit down, one hand on its body, the other on its nose, allowing her a shot at its neck. She swung, and it hit his hand.
Little Allison was didn’t look surprised at all. Had she meant to do that? She wasn’t sure. Nonetheless, she took her rabbit and ran.
The scene shifted. Little Allison was in what appeared to be her room, listening through the door.
“What the hell happened?!” A female voice, presumably her mother. The sound of the family’s first aid kit snapping open and the shuffling of some tools sounded.
“Allison hit me in the hand. I was trying to teach her how to slaughter a rabbit, but apparently she didn’t want to.” The sound of water flowing from a tap as her father washed his wounds.
“Oh, God. What are we gonna with her?”
“Take her out of sword fighting, for one thing. I don’t think we should be trusting her with a weapons like that. What if another kid upsets her?”
“Are you sure it wasn’t an accident?”
“No. She ran off with her rabbit afterwards. She meant to do it. Wouldn’t be the first time she showed signs of being... different. Remember her last track and field day?”
“We ought to talk to her about that.”
“We ought to put her rabbits back in the big hutch for this.”
“No. We aren’t going to cause her needless anxiety like that. There are better ways to punish her. And even if we do take them away, we can punish her by giving the rabbits to her brother. No selling or killing them, alright?”
“I just want her to turn out alright.”
“Me, too. But I think she’ll outgrow this.”
The memory faded back into mist.
“So, uh, what happened at the field day?” Jack asked.
“I‘d rather not say,” Allison said simply. “Until I heard my parents talking, I didn’t know there was anything wrong with me, so I didn’t make the conscious choice to be nice. I didn’t know it was something that I should have to.”
“Then I’m glad, too,” Susie replied. “You’re one of the kindest people I know now.”
“See?” Jack said. “Bad memories don’t have to be wholly bad.”
In that moment, a blue light appeared over Thomas’ head. The scene changed to show the inside of a house, with Allison on the couch, reading a newspaper. Thomas stormed in.
“Hi, honey,” Allison said. “Rough day again?”
“You know it,” Thomas snapped.
“Wally cause you problems?”
“Allie, it’s not something I can talk about! My God, this job is going to kill me.”
The two sat in silence a moment.
“Did someone find out that we’re together?”
“I’ll go heat up dinner,” Allison said. “Y’know, you could ask Gent to assign you to another project if it’s that hard on you.”
Thomas sighed. “You know why I don’t do that?” he growled.
Allison looked nervous. “No.”
“One reason I’m staying is because I don’t want to just turn away from this craziness. Someone less astute would just take my place, and then there’d be no stopping him.”
Allison, unlike almost everyone who was watching, didn’t need explained who he meant. “Well, it’s not your responsibility. And anyhow, I think what you’re doing is wonderful.”
Thomas slammed his fist down on the nearby coffee table, then got up to face Allison. “Y’see, that’s part of the goddamn problem! You don’t see the bad in anything! You’ve been working for Joey longer than I have and I’ve even shown you that- that thing! And you don’t see anything wrong with it.”
Allison had fallen silent. Her face was stony, like a teenager receiving the same lecture for the hundredth time.
Thomas began to pace. “Maybe, If you’d done what I told you to do and looked for other roles, I would be able to quit. As is, I’m fucking worried about you!”
“Thomas, you’re getting worked up,” Allison said in a soothing voice. They’d worked on this. “Why don’t you take a break from your paranoia? You’re not at work right now.”
Thomas grit his teeth and got up in Allison’s face. “Oh, for God’s sake! I don’t need a relaxation exercise! I need you to stop hanging out with Joey Drew! And maybe figure out what the hell is wrong with you so we can get out of that hellhole of a studio!”
Until then, Allison had shown no other signs of emotion. With his last line, however, her stony expression fell and she began to to sob into her hands.
“Oh, Allie, I’m sorry.” Thomas tried to brush a lock of hair out of her face, but she caught his hand and brushed it away. I promise, I’ll never take my anger out on you again.”
“You’d better not.”
Allison wiped the tears from her face and took a deep breath. “Do that one more time, and you’re going to therapy. Do it one more time after that, and we’re through. I’m always willing to talk about work, Tom, but don’t yell at me, and don’t blame me for your paranoia. Understood?”
“I’ll go heat up dinner.”
That’s when the scene faded back into mist. Everyone stood in silence a while, trying to figure out what could be said about what they’d just seen. This had not, despite Jack’s optimism, been in any way positive. The only people there that weren’t imagining Thomas as a paranoiac control freak were wondering what on earth Joey had done to cause him so much distress.
Joey Drew wondered at how he could distract the others from Thomas’s suspicions of him. Deciding to start on a pleasant note, he began, “Mr. Connor, it troubles me that you’d be so adamant in hiding your relationship with Allison. I could personally care less that you’re a black man with a white woman. And if anyone else hassled you about it, you could have just come to me and they’d be the one in trouble. What I cannot tolerate, however,” his tone darkened, “is domestic abuse.”
“What?!” Thomas snapped.
“The memory implies that you this isn’t the first time that had happened. Allison, you even seemed bored with it until things really escalated. And really, you thought you could make serious career choices for her because you were paranoid? How do I even know that that’s the extent of it?”
“No,” Allison cut in. “He stopped taking his anger out on me, just like he promised. And I can tell you honestly that he would never hit me. He wouldn’t.”
“It’s true,” Thomas said. “That was my worst memory because it was the closest I came to losing the best thing in my life. Don’t you think that if I’d laid a finger on her, that would be my worst memory?”
“I... guess you’re right. Sorry for the accusation,” Joey said, glad that the distraction had worked.
Suddenly, the light changed to yellow in Thomas’ hands. The scene changed to show Thomas Connor getting onto the infamous Joey Drew Studios elevator. Allison was already there, and she subtly averted her eyes from him. The elevator clanked into motion, then stopped not ten seconds later, trapping the duo between floors. Thomas groaned and rolled his eyes.
Allison stopped averting her gaze and crossed her legs. She knew that a whole lot of men in this studio would kill for a chance like this. The fact that it was a complete stranger didn’t help any. A few minutes ticked past. The stranger, strangely enough, wasn’t doing anything, and she took notice to the fact that it was a ruggedly handsome stranger. Well, she figured, she might as well make this little occurrence a little more pleasant.
“We could be stuck here quite a while, y’know. We might as well talk.”
Thomas looked over at her. “Okay. About what?”
“Well, I don’t know. What’s this elevator keeping you from? I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.” She was by his side now, leaning towards him flirtatiously. Thomas took a step back.
“Yeah, I don’t work here. I’m from Gent. Here to install some ink pipes.”
“Oh. That explains it.”
“Where are you being held from?”
“Oh, I’m the voice actress for the studio’s heroine, Alice Angel. Which means I get to go through the music department and get flirted with by every man in the room.”
Thomas almost rolled his eyes. “So you’re getting that much attention, and you’re still desperate for mine?”
Allison had the decency to draw back and look somewhat ashamed. “Sorry. I guess I just wasn’t expecting... well, decency from someone stuck in an elevator with me. I’m sure a few of those music department boys would’ve...” she drifted off. “Plus, you’re just my type,” she returned with a chirp.
Thomas gave her a good look over. There was no denying that she was attractive- her body and face were like a model’s. He could care less for the attention seeking, though. She seemed far too used to getting what she wanted. What the heck, he decided. Maybe he could end up shuffling the girl into bed, and it’s not like he had plans that night anyhow. “There’s an art gallery opening tonight,” he suggested.
Allison’s eyes lit up like a cat who’d caught a mouse. “Perfect. What time are you picking me up?”
The scene changed. The couple were walking down the street to the art gallery. They’d come about an hour after its grand opening, so while it was quite busy, the line to get in was fairly short. The man at the entrance offered that Thomas
donate to some animal-related charity. Wanting to make a show of kindness, he agreed.
“Please don’t,” Allison cut in. Thomas wondered what her deal was and if she just wanted to make a show of controlling him. Nonetheless, he retracted the donation.
The scene changed to a while later while they were looking at a bizarre, abstract piece. “Modern,” Thomas commented playfully, clearly meaning that it was trash. Allison giggled.
“I bet their best ones are upstairs,” Allison said.
As they were walking, Thomas searches for conversation topics. He had to admit, it had been pretty difficult to keep up with Allison intellectually. Although he didn’t think of himself as all that smart, Thomas hadn’t expected that. “So, what do you have against little puppies, Allie?” was what came out of his mouth.
“What? Oh, you mean the charity. Nothing. The charity’s just a scam. Like four fifths of the money they bring in goes into advertising, and we don’t even know where the rest goes. Gotta research this kind of thing. I could tell you about some better charities if you want.”
“Right,” Thomas said. Truthfully he wasn’t very interested, but he did enjoy learning about Allison at least. “Do tell me about them.” Worst case scenario, he could plan their second date in his head while giving her an opportunity to lead the conversation.
The scene changed again to the two of them standing a very awkward-looking five feet apart at Allison's doorway. "This time next week?" Thomas asked, sounding a little nervous in spite of himself.
"You know it!" Allison returned, tackling him with a kiss on the cheek as though it were no big deal. "See you then!" she said before disappearing inside, leaving Thomas to process what had just happened.
The next person to find the spark of light was Norman Polk. It was blue, so he silently slipped it into the pocket of his coat, hoping no one would notice. Trying to look casual, he slipped his hand over it to hide any light that might have appeared through the thick fabric. No one noticed. The scene changed anyways.
The scene changed to a prison-like facility. A man who looked like Norman Polk, but with blond hair, was being restrained by three men in some sort of uniform. Two were holding his arms. The restrained man pulled against them, and the third one took out a baton and struck him in the stomach. “Know what’s good for you and quit your struggling!” the guard yelled.
The arrested man was taken through a door, out of the group’s sight. They turned around to see a boy, maybe thirteen and with dark brown eyes and hair, watching from behind a box. He was nearly at the end of the hall, and slowly, quietly crept out.
As soon as the doors closed and locked behind him, a wave of relief washed over the boy. This was the public area of what passed for a police station this area. If he got caught here, he could get away with sneaking in, or at very least not be arrested. There were two more people in uniforms, a man and a woman, between him and the exit, talking. He casually walked passed them, trying to give the impression that he was doing nothing wrong. The woman grabbed his shoulder.
“What brings you here so late, little boy?”
“My mother sent me here to drop off a paper.” His response was immediate and he showed no signs of lying.
“Your mother is a good citizen. She wouldn’t have you disobey curfew. Now, is there something you’d like to tell us? Lying to a peace keeper is also a crime, so it’s your best interest to be honest.”
The boy forced a guilty look onto his face. “I just wanted to see what goes on here at night.”
“You're old enough to know that that's illegal. But, we’ll walk you home and have a talk with your mother. Again.” She put a hand to her forehead. “I swear to God, child, once you're too old to get away with things...”.
The scene changed. Norman and the woman from the station were outside, in what appeared to be a residential area, although it was the middle of the night, and with no lampposts or really any source of light aside from the officer’s flashlight, it was almost too dark to see anything.
Norman opened the door to the house and went to what he thought was his room, only to find a crib where his bed should have been. Just then, the baby started crying. A complete stranger turned on the lights. “What’s going on?” the stranger asked, confused.
“I swear I’m not up to no good!” Norman said with an uncharacteristic amount of fear in his voice, probably because he wasn’t lying for once. “See, I was having an officer walk me home, and I guess they just took me to the wrong place. That’s it, I swear!”
“Wait, are you Georgia’s son?”
“Yes,” Norman said. It was the truth.
“Oh, I see," the man said sympathetically. "She just switched houses with us. You know, since we’d be moving into a family unit soon anyhow. She didn’t say why she was moving. Is... everything okay at home?”
The boy nodded. “It’s fine. Thanks for understanding.” The look on his face said that was clearly a lie.
The scene changed again. The group’s new location was a residential house. “Where are we?” Susie asked in a whisper. “Whose memory was that?” Something about the room- perhaps the empty white walls, or the house’s eerie silence, or the general plainness of the place- made her feel like it would be a very bad idea to make noise. The house felt very unlived-in. There were no items decorating the walls or strewn on the table. The only furniture was a dark table with four dark chairs in what appeared to be a dining room area, two more matching dark chairs in what must have passed for a living room, and three doors made of the same dark wood. Some of the group wanted to check the doors to try and find the subject of the memory, but it seemed unwise to alter the past like that.
Suddenly, a blue toy car clattered from under the table. Wally nearly picked it up, but Shawn held him back. That same boy, now wearing night clothes, quietly crawled out from underneath the table to retrieve it. One of the doors unlocked, and the boy looked stunned a moment, before darting back underneath the table. He avoided touching any of the chairs to keep from making any noise. The door opened, and a dark-haired woman in her thirties entered. She looked around briefly, sighed, and entered the kitchen, only to return thirty seconds later with coffee.
“I’m not coming to look for you, Norman. Come out when you’re willing to talk.”
Norman suddenly appeared beside her. “You turned him in.”
The woman looked exasperated. “I had to. Your father was telling you things, and I was worried. It’s one thing for him to be poking around where he shouldn’t be, but when he’s encouraging you... And, well... it’s not like I lied, Norman. He was taken away for his own actions.”
Norman stepped away from his mother and faced the wall. No tears. He’d already accepted this the night before. No ‘how could you.’ He knew exactly how much of a sheep his mother was.
“This isn’t easy for me to tell you, but you need to pick up your personal belongings from the old house after school. We don’t need a family unit anymore since it’s just going to be the two of us now. I’m sorry.”
The woman rose and tried to comfort Norman, but he pulled away from her and disappeared into one of the rooms.
The scene faded back into mist. Henry was the first to speak. “Norman... What was that?”
Norman glanced around awkwardly, unused to having to many eyes on him. “I grew up in a cult. That’s all.”
No wonder then, Henry thought, that Norman was so strange.
“Do you want to talk about it?” asked Susie, who clearly didn’t know him.
“No.” He wanted to disappear.
“Can you at least tell us how you got out?” Jack asked.
Norman dug the light out of his pocket as it was changing to yellow. “I don’t think I’ll have to.”
The scene changed. They were in a bigger version of the room they’d been in before. This place looked much homier, however: pictures hanging on the walls, children’s toys and a nice orange rug on the floor, and people sitting at the table. Norman was there, looking to be in his mid-twenties. He was holding hands with a woman about his age. Three older adults, a man and two women, plus two teenagers and a child, were gathered around the table.
“It’s so nice of you to come out here and visit us,” said one of the older women. “I know that they don’t allow visitors too often. I was worried you’d forget about us.”
“Forget about my own sister? No...” the other woman cooed.
“Well, I know how busy it is out there. But anyhow, my Elizabeth has an announcement to make.”
The girl holding hands with Norman smiled. “We’re getting married. And they’re letting us move right into family housing because I’m so fertile.”
Her aunt made a face. “Right. Uh, congratulations,” she said, before turning back to her sister. “Would you mind if I took a walk with these two after dinner? Give them some marriage advice?”
Norman wondered why she was so bitter about marriage.
The scene changed. Norman, Elizabeth, and her aunt were on the outskirts of town. “Can they hear us here?” the aunt whispered.
“We should probably go a little further. But keep the curfew in mind. We should go into the woods.”
The trio walked through the woods for a good fifteen minutes before stopping.
“Alright, I’m cutting straight to the chase,” the older woman began, “Do you kids want to live here?”
Norman’s eyes drifted side to side. “No.”
“What?” Elizabeth asked the older woman. “You don’t mean...”
“I do. Now look, I don’t know why my sister chose to come to this crazy cult. But she was a fully-grown adult, so she deserves to have a choice. Well, so do you. I need a ‘yes’ from both of you before I say more.”
Elizabeth looked nervously into Norman’s rather blank eyes.
“Yes!” she whispered excitedly.
“Alright, here’s what’s going to happen. Tomorrow night, you need to sneak out. Two miles down the road from the outskirts of town, there’s an abandoned grain silo. Meet me there at midnight, and I’ll pick you up. Got it?”
The scene changed. Norman and Elizabeth were walking down the street, talking about the weather, trying to look as casual as possible. Elizabeth’s eyes were full of excitement, and Norman wanted to tell her to stop, to calm down, but he didn’t know how to without looking suspicious. It was already dark, and they couldn’t see anyone else on the street, but Norman wanted to take every precaution. Whether they were caught or not, it would be the last time they would have to.
After reaching the outskirts, they followed the road, going through the woods to feel less detectable. Both knew it was probably overkill. Still, they both let out a sigh of relief when they saw the grain silo.
“What time is it?” Elizabeth asked after a moment.
Norman checked his watch by the light of the moon. “9:55,” he whispered.
“We have over two hours, then. Why don’t we, y’know...” Elizabeth took off her sweater, “pick some lemons?” She did not whisper, and her voice seemed very loud and very exposed against the quiet of night.
“That’s not a good idea. If they come for us, we need to be able to get down and hide as quickly as possible.”
“Norman, we’re two miles from town. They aren’t going to check here. And you don’t have to whisper.
Norman hesitated, but saw no way to argue with his soon-to-be-wife’s logic. Slowly, he got up and put his arms around her waist, passionately kissed her lips, and then boosted her up the tree to pick the lemons.
“It’s a miracle!” she exclaimed, “a fruiting lemon tree in mid-February!
Norman nodded. “Almost like we’re in a fanfiction made by an author who wanted to convey intimacy without writing an actual sex scene!”
Two hours later, their clothes were strewn in every direction and their backpacks were filled to bursting with lemons.
“I bet the real world is great,” Elizabeth said. “You can think or say whatever you want and not get arrested, you can pick your own career, pretty much don’t hurt anyone or steal and you can do almost anything. And it would be so weird to have to be the only one out there who didn’t know how it works. I’m so glad you’re coming with me, Norman.”
Norman nodded. He’d always been strange. Showing emotion and dealing with people weren't his strong suits. This transition was probably going to be twice as hard for him as it was for most. He had no idea why Elizabeth had chosen him, but he was glad she did. “Me, too. I love you, Elizabeth.”
Just then, a car pulled up.
“Oh, shoot,” Elizabeth said, scrambling to find all her clothes. Soon, the two were in the backseat of the car together. This was real. They were going to escape.
“Well. I sure hope most of yours will be a little tamer,” Lacie commented. “You all seem cultish enough on a good day.”
Sammy’s eyes darted around nervously at the comment.
“Well, I guess you’re out of luck,” the black-and-white woman chirped, smiling and cradling the yellow light in her hands. “It’s my turn.”
Henry, along with several others, leaned in, curious as to how the woman had come to look the way she did. The scene changed to that of a public bathroom. A woman was there, blonde, slender, looking maybe seventeen years old and wearing a sparkly hot pink dress. She was leaning over the sink, delicately applying mascara.
“Alright, and our next contestant is Susie Campbell!”
The little girl let out a soft “Oh,” and scampered out as quickly as she could in her heels, dropping the mascara in the sink in the process.
The little girl stopped before the stairs leading up to the stage in what appeared to be a school auditorium, clearly nervous. But, she took a deep breath and took decisive steps up on stage, made her way to its center as music began to play, and sang.
The song was “My Man,” by Fanny Brice, and she sang it beautifully, hitting high notes and swinging back to more moderate tones in a way that seemed as effortless as it was pleasing to the ear. She batted her lashes at the audience at the right moments and generally seemed to be having the time of her life. She beamed at the applause when it was done. The scene shifted and showed the girl winning an award for her performance, then faded into mist.
The black and white woman- Susie Campbell, apparently- shook her head violently. “No. That’s not my defining memory! That’s not what it was supposed to be!”
Allison stroked her back, trying to comfort her.
Though he knew it was rude, Henry couldn’t contain his curiosity any longer. “I don’t understand. Was that not a memory from your life?”
Susie willed herself to calm down a little. “No, it was. It was the day I decided to try and make a living off my voice. I just thought it would be a different memory, is all. I thought it would be the first time I performed looking like this.” She motioned to herself.
Henry knew he ought to say something, but the confusion had left him dumbfounded. The horns and colours could be explained as a costume, but this woman was well over half a foot taller than Susie had been in her memory, and had very different facial features, not to mention how thin her neck and arms were. From a distance she had seemed beautiful, but now that Henry looked at her more carefully, she was rather uncanny-looking.
Joey spoke up. “Sammy, could you explain to Henry why Susie looks different now?”
Sammy went over to Henry. Meanwhile, Henry could see Joey attempting to come to Susie’s comfort only to be sent away.
“So, about Susie...” Sammy began, still walking away from the group and forcing Henry to follow, “Joey and I are working on a way of making, uh, costumes for people like Ali- I mean, Susie to wear. It’s a supernatural process, and it changes a lot pretty quickly.”
“Supernatural...?” Henry questioned, before realizing that he was literally having this conversation in the middle of a mystical void. “I suppose that makes sense...”
“Yeah. Well, it’s better to leave Susie be.” Bitterness crept into Sammy’s voice. “She’s still feeling pretty delicate about the whole thing.”
“I’m sure she’ll get over it,” Henry said. Sammy looked away, concerned and irritated. Henry knew that, unless Sammy had changed significantly over the years, it would probably be best if he let Sammy process this on his own.
Suddenly, the glowing light reappeared, blue, but unlike every time prior, it wasn’t near anyone. It was in between Sammy and Henry, and the group. Sammy walked towards it, and it drifted towards the group, keeping equal distance between him and the group. Following it, he ended up a few feet away from Susie, the glowing light between them. Susie met his eyes a moment, then looked down, resigned.
The scene changed. Sammy Lawrence, looking no different than he did in the present, entered into Susie’s apartment. He wasn't sure if they were to going to be cohabitating from now on or if he was just there to check up on her, but either way it felt right. As soon as the group entered, they noticed that the heat had been cranked way up. Sammy shrugged off his coat and tried to ignore it. Susie, looking exactly like she did in the present and wearing a blue knit sweater which was clearly cut for a man, had been sitting at the table, waiting for him and reading a book.
“Hey, Susie, I’m home. How was the dance?”
“Good. My friends took the transformation pretty well. How was your time with the other woman?”
Sammy rolled his eyes. Susie had been calling Joey “the other woman” for quite a while. The normalcy was comforting. “Good. Are you feeling sick? It's way too hot in here to be wearing this,” he said, motioning at the sweater she was wearing.
“Oh, right," she said, taking it off. "You can have it back. I can’t use it anymore.”
“Because it won’t warm me up anymore. I’m cold-blooded. That’s why the heat’s turned up.”
“Oh, okay,” Sammy studied her face. She didn’t seem too unhappy, but the whole situation suddenly struck him as very delicate and very awkward. “I took the picture you asked for. I should warn you, though: we shouldn’t have waited as long as we did to embalm it. And we were hiding it in the sewer, so... Are you sure you still want to see it?”
“I’ll be fine. My first performance was one of the best I've ever had. It’s like you said: I love being Alice Angel. I just need to say goodbye to who I used to be, is all.”
Sammy handed her the picture, then looked away nervously. Equally nervously, Susie looked down. The thirteen employees pushed past each other to see the picture.
"A dead body." Henry deadpanned. A blonde, slight, female dead body. Its blood had pooled at the extremities, causing swelling and discolouration that rendered the face unrecognizable. One leg had been hanging into the sewer water as the skin had partially rotted away. In that moment, Susie fully realized that her life would never be the same.
“Sammy,” Susie said gravely. Even she didn’t know what the next words out of her mouth would be. “Get out.”
“What?” Sammy replied, bewildered.
“I’m sorry. We need to take a break so that I can process what you did.”
“You’re breaking up with me?”
“No. Maybe. I’m taking a break. Maybe I come to trust you again, and maybe I can’t. We’ll see.”
“Susie, let’s talk this over,” he said, going over to put an arm around her.
Susie turned away from him and started to walk to her room. “No. I want to be alone.”
Sammy, now quite irate, followed her. “This affects us both. You can’t just leave me in the dark like this!”
Susie clenched her fists. “I’ve been sleeping with ——!” she yelled. It seemed as though the name of the person she’d been sleeping with had been muted. The group could see her lips move, but they couldn’t hear her voice.
Sammy was in stunned silence.
“I'm sorry," she snapped. "Do you feel betrayed? Well,youcan find another girl and it'll like nothing ever happened. I'm going to have to live with this for the rest of my life. You know, it was my time of month when you sacrificed me, and sure isn't anymore. Can I even have children anymore, Sammy? Can I still get old? Die? Do you even know?" As she went on, her voice became weaker.
Sammy was shamefaced. He shook his head.
"Leave." Susie said, willing what little strength she could manage into her voice.
"I did everything I could to help you through this," he said irritably.
"Everything but tell me the truth about it beforehand. Now, leave. I won't say it again."
Sammy left. As soon as he was outside the door, he sat down against it, staring miserably at the sweater.
The scene faded away. Sammy and Susie met eyes. Sammy immediately lowered his. “I feel like we have a lot to talk about,” Sammy said finally. “If you’re ready, that is.”
Susie nodded. “I think I am. Sammy, I know you didn’t mean for it to happen the way it did. I’m definitely not sorry for getting upset like that, but I am sorry for cheating on you.”
“I just don’t understand why you did that,” Sammy said. “That was before any of this had happened.”
“Neither did I,” Susie said honestly, “but I’d never do it again.”
"Maybe we can help," Allison suggested, putting an arm around Tom. "We had our relationship struggles, too, but we got through them. Seems like that ink machine has a real way of breaking couples, doesn't it?"
Susie smiled. "You'd do that for us, Allie?"
Wally was taken aback. "Since when do you two get along?"
Susie answered. "Since she taught me how to do my makeup to look a little more like a human. Plus, I hated her for taking my role from me, but now I'm more Alice Angel than she'll ever be, so I'm over it. It's not like she knew she was breaking my heart by taking the role anyhow. That's since when."
Sammy was less impressed. He could barely hold Tom's eyes for more than a second. "I'm not sure that's a good idea, Susie," he said irritably. He'd never liked Tom much. He knew he had a bias against black men, and although he was trying not to feed that particular wolf, Tom being the angry, irritable, intimidating person he was... Sammy was having thoughts he wished he weren't having, and it seemed like Tom could tell as much. Although, having seen Tom's memories, he was beginning to see Tom less as just a black man who demanded respect, and more as just... a person. "I guess it's worth a try though."
Tom, who had been expecting Sammy to shut the whole thing down, looked away in annoyance and resignation.
“I’d like to apologize for my hand in this, too,” Joey added, surprising everyone. “Too often, I’m good at justifying things to myself. But Sammy, you know I care about you, and I honestly never meant to cause you this much hurt.”
Sammy tensed immediately, baring his teeth like an animal. He had grabbed Joey’s collar and was about to punch him before Thomas pulled the much smaller man off of him. “Get ahold of yourself!” Thomas yelled.
“Right. Sorry. Joey, you and I have some things to talk about, too, when we get out of this weird void.”
Joey nodded solemnly, trying to show Sammy that he took the situation seriously. Although, he was secretly relieved that Sammy’s worst memory hadn’t been more incriminating. Lord knows how the group would have reacted to Susie’s ritual. Of course, there was still his own worst memory to contend with.
It would seem that whatever created the void, it has a bit of an agenda.
The memories continued, seemingly in no particular order. Some of the memories were relatively normal and tame. The group saw Shawn spending winter nights at home with his family in Ireland. They saw Jack getting bullied as a child. They saw Lacie leaving her abusive home as a teenager and moving in with her older sister, finally receiving the love and care that had been missing from her life. Lacie refused to say why or even if she was kicked out.
After that, though, the memories turned more violent. They saw Lacie getting a beating in prison, which she was... actually capable of laughing at now. The no one in the group was sure whether to respect or fear her for that, but Bertrum, Shawn and Grant were supportive, at least.
Shawn’s memory took place in what appeared to be a dive bar. He was with two other men, loudly and drunkenly telling a fish story, when their little group was approached by a fourth man. The man tapped Shawn on the shoulder, and, in a husky but more than slightly tipsy voice, said, “Hey. You wanna pay our tab tonight? You’ll be sorry if you don’t.” The man was fairly tall, very large, and had some tattoos on him. In spite of what was clearly prison ink, he was wearing the green jacket Shawn knew as the uniform of some grease cart whose name he didn’t bother to remember. Somewhere in his drunken haze, Shawn was thinking that this man must be some recently released criminal, unused to the real world and just spoiling for the familiarity of either bullying someone into submission or a fight.
Shawn burst out laughing. “Nope.”
“I don’t think you understand,” the man growled. Two other man appeared behind him.
“Oh, ah understand you alright. And I ain’t payin’ you a cent!”
The intimidating man grinned. “Oh, you’ll pay for that!”
“Shall we show him, laddies?” Shawn asked his drinking buddies, a huge, sadistic smile adorning his face.
The tussle broke out. Shawn himself was on the short side, lean and wiry, and looked like the easiest target, so naturally, their leader slugged him first. A good deal of lesser men would have been taken out by that shot, but not Shawn. The bigger of Shawn’s friends threw himself on to Shawn’s assailant, allowing Shawn to land a wicked right cross on one of the leader’s friends. Shawn and the other man exchanged blows for a few seconds before Shawn grabbed his opponent’s shoulders and kneed him in the ribs, leaving him doubled over. He then picked up a bar stool and swung it over his head with intent to smash it over his opponent. In that moment, however, the jailbird hit him in the back with another barstool, causing him to accidentally lose his grip on it and throw it completely off trajectory. He fell to the ground yelled, “stop! I’ll pay!”
He’d said it out of panic, but surveying the damage, he could tell that he and his friends had lost. The jailbird has knocked his bigger friend unconscious. Shawn lifted himself from the ground, paid the man’s tab, and propped his friend up in the booth as he regained consciousness.
“Is he going to be okay?” Lacie asked.
“Yes,” Shawn said in a very serious voice.
Lacie didn’t get it. So Shawn lost a bar fight. The two of them together had done so a few times (not that their win-to-loss ratio was anything too shabby), and Shawn had never taken it too seriously. What made this his worst memory?
“Hey. You okay, buddy? Should I call a doctor?” Shawn said to his friend.
Shawn’s friend gripped his bleeding temple, groaned, then nodded. Shawn didn’t have to, however. Medical personnel arrived before he could even ask the bartender for use of the public phone. The medical personnel were not, however, focused on Shawn’s friend, but on a man in the corner who had been knocked cold. A painful dent could be seen on his skull, and right next to him lay a bloody barstool. Shawn was frozen in shock.
The scene shifted to that of a courtroom. Shawn, his two friends, and the trio they had fought, were there. All six of them looked shaken, and Shawn was shaking like a leaf. Banging his gavel, the judge said, “We have had many corroborating accounts that what took place was a consensual fight, and that the person, named George Rodriguez, injured was injured entirely accidentally and was not a part of the fight. The barstool that injured the victim was covered in fingerprints of many people, including two of the people involved in the consensual fight. There were no witness reports as to who threw the bar stool, and the reports of all accused are contradictory, with no way of knowing who is telling the truth. As a result, there is insufficient evidence to charge any of the accused with assault or criminal negligence. Case dismissed.” A massive amount of tension left Shawn’s body, but he was still shaking.
The scene changed. Shawn was in a hospital setting, talking to a receptionist. “Is there a George Rodriguez here?” he asked. The receptionist shook her head. The scene changed several times after that, with Shawn asking the same question to four different receptionists in four different hospitals. Finally, at the fourth one, he asked, “How many of hospitals are there in New York, anyhow?”
“Forty. But I read about George Rodriguez in the news. I could call some other hospitals if you want to try and find him. And who are you to want to see him?”
“Ah was standing trial fer hurtin’ him. Falsely, of course. Ah wanna if he’s okay.”
The receptionist slowly shook her head. “They’d never go for that. You could be there to threaten him or deliver a bribe for his silence.”
Shawn’s eyes lit up suddenly. “He’s alive enough fer that?”
“I wouldn’t know. The news article said he was in pretty rough shape. Had a pretty big dent in his head.” Shawn’s face fell again. The scene changed to him arriving home and pounding down enough whiskey to help him forget that he'd lied in court and might have killed a man and had no way of finding out.
The group was silent awhile. “Wasn’t your fault, Shawn,” Lacie said finally, putting her arm around him. Grant and Wally also tried to comfort him.
After they were finished with that, Henry stepped in. “Did you check the obituaries in the newspapers?” he asked. “There’s a good chance that he’s completely fine now.”
“Nah, Ah’d rather leave it to mystery. There’s also a chance he’s dead.”
Henry decided that he’d grab Wally and get him to search for the name “George Rodriguez” in a phone book. If the man was well, it would probably be a huge weight off Shawn’s mind.
After two memories that included vicious assault, the group could have used a calming memory. And seeing the golden light appear by Jack’s shoulder, it seemed that that was what they were in for.
The scene changed into that of a cozy-looking house, which Sammy could recognize as Jack’s house. Jack himself looked somewhat younger, maybe by five or ten years, and was having dinner by candlelight with another man.
“Alright, Jack,” the other man said, "You said you had something to show me?”
“Well, Terry, I spent a long time thinking about how to make our anniversary special,” he began, “and since we’ve been living together a while now, I thought that maybe we could buy some rings.”
His husband cocked an eyebrow. “So we can leave them at home?”
“Nope! Here’s the plan: we’ll get two rings from different places, in totally different styles. We can say they’re from our ‘wives’ if anyone asks. That’ll get your parents off your back about getting married, at least. But on the inside...”
“You know it!”
A sly smile spread across Terry’s face. “Your song lyrics?”
Jack smiled. “Well, I hadn’t decided yet. Wanted you to choose. It’s your anniversary present.”
“You know I’m going to choose your lyrics.”
The two met eyes. “You’re the sweetest person I’ve ever met,” Jack said. “I’ll put in the order tomorrow.”
The scene faded. Despite the memory being almost saccharine, Jack looked humiliated. He scanned the room. If there was any real outrage, they didn’t show it. Susie and Wally seemed to find it adorable.
Henry was averting his eyes, but that was the worst reaction he saw. Jack’s eyes landed on an unconcerned-looking Joey. Anyone else’s ire he could take, but...
“What?” Joey asked curtly.
“...Are you going to fire me?”
“Oh, no,” he said in a gentle tone. “I mean, I wouldn’t be taking Terry to any office parties- I wish none of my workers would be bad about it, but that’s very unlikely and I won’t be caught defending you- but beyond that, why would I care?” Joey then realized something, and scanned the room. “You’re all trustworthy, right?” His eyes landed on the oldest, most powerful, and most vindictive person in the room. “Bertrum?”
“Mr. Drew, when I bring you to your knees it’s going to be for something much more humbling than looking the other way on this.”
Joey grinned. With Bertrum usually being so passive-aggressive, this openness was a nice change of pace.
Lacie looked to Bertrum, who gave her a nod and an encouraging little push. “Hey, Jack. Why don’t my ‘wife’ and I be your fake ‘wives’ if anyone asks? It’ll seem more believable if we both have names to give.”
“That sounds like a great idea, uh, Lacie, was it?”
“Wow. Not often I meet other gay people. And uh, I’m sorry your parents kicked you out.”
“Oh, that’s not what that was about. They were narcissistic heaps of trash in general, so I never took the risk of telling them. My sister knows, though.”
“Uh, guys?” Wally cut in. The group turned to see that he held the light now, glowing yellow in his hand. “My turn.”
Getting repetitive yet? Yeah, I made some mistakes with pacing. But there's only one more "lightweight" chapter before we get on to Henry and Joey, so I hope you'll all stay with me!
Also, sorry for glancing over Lacie like this. I love her but I didn't have any good ideas for using her.
The memory showed Wally walking home from work on a rainy day, looking maybe five or ten years younger than in present. He heard a whine coming from an alleyway and went to investigate. What he found was a golden retriever puppy taking shelter in a cardboard box. It was trembling. Wally wasn’t sure what to do, but he couldn’t just leave her.
“Oh, come here,” Wally cooed, bending down to gather the dog up in his arms. No collar. Huh. He carried her home to his apartment. About a block before he arrived, he hid her under his jacket. All the squirming made this a very unconvincing disguise. “Shh... simmer down,” he whispered, “I’m not supposed to bring you in there.” Somehow, that actually seemed to calm her down a little. Enough, at least, for him to sneak her into his apartment.
“Hey, girl,” he said to her, finally letting her out to explore her new surroundings, “You’re stayin’ here for the night.” The puppy sniffed around and began chewing on a discarded plastic cup she found on the floor. Yeah, you’d never know I clean for a livin’.” Then he noticed the little paw prints she’d left on the floor. He couldn’t have those giving him away, so he immediately picked up the dog and took her to the bathroom for a wash. It was one heck of a mess as the puppy didn’t want to be bathed and jumped out twice before Wally figured out he had to hold her down. Still, Wally was able to laugh over the situation.
The scene shifted to Wally sleeping with the puppy, then to him smuggling her out. He returned to the alley he’d found her in, let her out, and said. “Alright, girl. Sorry I can’t keep ya. Run along.” The puppy cocked its head adorably and whined a little. “You’re makin’ this hard, but it ain’t my choice. Good luck out there.”
Wally turned away and walked another fifteen feet before realizing the puppy was following him. Wally sighed. “Alright, you win, you little bugger.” He loaded the dog back into his jacket and headed back to his place. “Goldie. I’m callin’ ya Goldie.”
The scene changed to what must have been a few weeks or months later. Goldie was a little bigger, and Wally’s apartment had dog bowls and a couple chew toys in it now, and had the trash picked up off the floor so that it wouldn’t end up in her teething mouth. The doorbell rang. Wally, as though by habit, picked up Goldie and her toys and bowls, and put them in another room, putting a cardboard box over them just for overkill.
He opened the door. His neighbour was hanging back, with a little girl in a Girl Guide uniform in front of him. “Wanna buy some cookies?” The little girl asked.
“Aw, of course. Just let me get some money and I’ll be right back.”
The click-click noise of dog claws on linoleum could be heard making their way across the floor now, along with the sound of a cardboard box dragging across the floor. Wally realized then that he must have forgotten to shut the door when he moved Goldie into the other room.
“What’s that?” the little girl asked.
“It’s uhh... my toy train!” Wally answered.
His neighbour rolled his eyes. “Wally, do you really think we’ve never heard that thing bark?”
“Oh.” Apparently his secret was not as well-kept as he had assumed.
“Can I pet him?” the little girl asked.
“Alright, sure. Come on in.” Wally took the box off of the dog and watched as she licked her face.
“So, uh. Are you going to tell on me if I keep her?”
“Nah. She’s not causing me any issue. And hey,” the neighbour leaned in, “I actually know someone who needs a home for their dog. They’re moving in a week, and they’re hoping to find someone to take him in so they don’t need to leave him in a shelter. What do you say?”
“I guess I could take him for a while, if he’s clean and quiet. If the dogs ever cause problems with the neighbours, that’ll be the end of this.”
“You’ll have to talk with them. I know it’s a pug, and he seemed pretty quiet to me, but I wouldn’t know.” The neighbour took out a piece of paper and wrote down a phone number.
The scene shifted to show Wally receiving the pug, shifted again to show him welcoming a third dog into his home, and shifted a third time to show him passing on the pug to a new owner.
The scene changed. Wally was checking out a bulletin board in the lobby of his apartment. One poster in particular caught his eye: it read, “A note to residents from your landlord: I have decided to, out of the goodness of my heart, look the other way on Wally Franks’ dog rehoming hobby. THIS IS A ONE-TIME EXCEPTION. OTHER RESIDENTS ARE NOT ALLOWED PETS OR OTHER ANIMALS. A ps to Wally Franks: if you don’t want your landlord to find out about your dog rehoming hobby, refrain from hanging posters about it with your name and phone number in public spaces. I will be over on the first Monday of each month to see that your apartment is being kept sanitary. If the other residents complain of noise, I will also be forced to have you let go of your dogs. Thank you.
The scene changed a final time. Wally was arriving home to his apartment, and was greeted by three dogs: a border collie, a toy poodle, and a fully-grown Goldie. “She took her!” Wally announced proudly to his dogs. He made his way over to a corkboard he’d hung up. On the corkboard were several pictures of dogs, the one in the upper-left corner being the pug he’d first rehomed. Looking as proud as anyone there had ever seen him, he added another picture to the board, of his most recent rehomed dog. The scene faded back to mist.
After a couple of minutes of Allison, Lacie and Tom (the biggest dog people in the room, aside from Wally himself) asking questions about the dogs, the light appeared by Wally’s shoulder again, blue this time.
The scene took place in a bedroom that looked just as disastrously messy as Wally’s apartment had been. Wally was there, and amazingly enough, he looked even more lanky and boyish than he did in the present. The acne and shoulder-length hair didn’t help his appearance any, either. He was leaning over a math textbook, idly doodling a tree. What looked like a college-aged Henry came in. “Hey, Wally. Make any progress since last time?” he asked.
Wally looked pained. “I think so. But I couldn’t finish it. Is this right?” He passed Henry a sheet of paper. Now Henry looked pained.
“No. Look, you need to look things up in the textbook when you don’t understand things. Just leaving them off until I’m here to tutor you isn’t going to make you enough progress to pass.”
Wally scrunched up his eyes. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand a word of what goes on in the textbook. It’s like my brain is allergic to it.”
Henry took a deep breath. “Well, I’ll explain it again. Alright?”
“Okay. Henry? Do you think I can still pass? The school’s not gonna hold me back again. If I can’t get through this, I’m outta there. Flunked out. But that’s not necessarily what’s gonna happen, right?”
Henry paused. “No, you’re going to pass,” he said, staring down at the textbook. He sounded utterly defeated and not at all genuine.
The scene changed to that of a classroom in which Wally was taking an examination. He was leaving a solid third of the questions blank, even taking the time to draw in one of the blank spaces to give his overtaxed brain a break. He knew at this point that he needed almost 80% to pass (assuming his own calculations were correct, and that point he felt stupid enough that he didn’t trust as much, even for something so simple). There was no way he knew enough to get that. He glanced over at the person beside him for a few seconds, then flipped to the question his classmate had been working on and scribbled down as much as he could remember. He repeated the process a couple times before a hand closed over his wrist. It was a teacher. “You’re doing the rest of the exam in the hallway,” she whispered sternly, “and afterward, I’m taking you to the principal’s office so we can decide on a consequence for this.”
The scene changed again. Wally has come home from school. “Wally. How was the test?” his mother asked him.
“I failed,” he said, dropping his backpack and heading to his room.
“Hey, we can’t know that yet.”
“I do know, okay? Look, I don’t wanna snap at you, ma. Please just leave me alone for a while.” With that, he shut himself into his room. “And it’s probably not the only subject I’ll fail, either.”
The scene shifted to later that evening. Wally heard an angry-sounding knock on his bedroom door and all but froze.
“Wally, open up!” It was his mother. Wally sat down on the floor. A gentler male voice followed.
“Oh, calm down. Wally, we just want to talk.”
“Come in,” he groaned.
The door creaked open. “You cheated on an essential fucking test? What were you thinking?!” his mother yelled.
“I wasn’t,” Wally cried. It was the truth. He’d fantasized about doing it, sure, but he hadn’t thought he’d actually do it until it happened.
“Well, at least the school decided to let you off easy,” His father said. “If they’re just docking the test 20%, there’s still a chance you passed, right?”
Wally just stared up at him.
“You needed quite a bit on it, I take it?”
Wally just nodded. A couple tears ran down his face.
“Oh... I’m sorry. You know we have to ground you for cheating, but I promise it’s going to be okay.” His father knelt down to get on his level.
“Okay? Where is he going to get in life if he’s flunked out?”
His father turned to glare at his mother. “Quit! Don’t you think he’s miserable enough over this?”
The scene faded back into mist. Wally had a pained smile on his face. Deep down, he was trying to hold on to the pride and joy from his best memory.
“You okay?” Henry asked.
“Wha? Yeah, I’m fine. I’m used to makin’ a fool of myself, honest! You just have to learn to laugh at yourself.”
Bertrum laughed. “Well, it seems that you would certainly have the practice.”
Shawn glared at him. “Ya’d best take that all the way back, laddy.”
Bertrum shrugged. As though some random worker could hurt one of the if not the most important people that Mr. Drew was partnered with, and while he was in the room, no less.
“Isn’t your worst memory one of the last ones left?” Henry asked. He wasn’t one for confrontation, but it would be nice if Bertrum realized what a glass house he was living in.
As though on cue, the light, blue this time, appeared by Bertrum’s shoulder.
The scene changed to that of a field in which a whole bunch of college-age boys and girls were having a party. Bertrum was basically impossible to pick out from the crowd, both because of how dark it was, illuminated only by the light of a bonfire, and because of how much younger he would have been. “Where are ya?” Shawn asked irritably.
“Oh, I er... don’t know! Wait, yes. I was in the bushes. Let’s go check in the bushes.”
“Are you sure you’re not just doing what I did?” Grant grumbled. Now that he’d heard Bertrum's laugh again, he was sure that Bertrum had been the one to laugh at him for having a panic attack, something he did not appreciate in the slightest.
“Yes, I’m sure, I-“ Bertrum was cut off by the sound of a car pulling up. A man that looked quite similar to present-day Bertrum stepped out. His face was comically puffed up with anger.
“Bertie!” The man boomed, in a voice loud enough to rival Bertrum’s own. The group of youngsters, largely amused, split to reveal Bertrum, who was looking like a terrified little sheep.
“Get into the car at once. There’s something I need to show you.”
“My father always was a drama queen. It’s nothing as bad as he makes it sound,” Bertrum explained to keep his dignity together as his past self was dragged by the arm into the car. They took off, and the scene changed so that everyone could see what was going on during the ride.
“Bertrum Piedmont, you irresponsible, idiotic, ill-conceived little cad, what did I tell you to do the night that your ride began operation?!”
“Stay available in case something went wrong,” he said, utter submission in his voice.
“And what, pray tell, did you do?”
“I thought for sure that it would be fine.”
“Well, you were wrong. And now that I've finally found you, you're going to personally explain to the public, which will get back to my stockholders, I remind you, that this is your fault, that I had every reason to trust you, and that you failed me horribly. Really, do you know how much of a risk I was taking, letting you design a ride before you were even licensed? You begged me for that. You have no idea how high your bail would be if someone had gotten hurt. No idea. Do you hear me, Bertie?"
"Well, thankfully, the ride broke down before anyone was even on it."
That seemed to shock Bertrum a little. "It broke down that quickly?"
"Yes. That quickly."
The ride continued in silence, allowing present-day Bertrum to do some damage control for his dignity. "You know, the good thing about having a forty-year legacy is that you don't have to worry about little mistakes you made early on like that. My father practically begged me for that one ride design."
"That's not how he made it sound," Lacie quipped.
"Yes, well, he always was a drama queen. But anyhow, I've made far better since. And what was wrong with it truly was minor, and it wasn't really my fault anyway, and-"
"Bertrum, desperation is dripping from your voice like candy off an apple and you're about as red as one. Do yourself a favour, and just shut up and take this like the rest of us."
Bertrum looked annoyed, but he did shut up. Lacie was, after all, rarely wrong about this kind of thing.
Finally, the car came to a halt. The two of them got out in the parking lot of an amusement park. They made their way to the malfunctioned ride. Parts had flung off of it. "Alright, Bertrum. Explain to them why the ride failed."
Mercifully, that is when the scene faded back into mist.
Bertrum fumed for a solid three minutes about how his memory wasn’t any indication of his engineering skills, responsibility, or anything else, before Lacie and Joey could finally get him to calm down.
“Who’s left?” Joey asked, mostly to himself. “Oh, that’s right.” He turned to look at Henry. “Only me and you.”
Henry chuckled awkwardly. This was the first time they’d acknowledged each other on this mystical plane. “Yeah, I guess so. So, um... life treating you well, Joey?”
“Oh, yes,” he said, a bitter tone in his voice. “The studio is just flourishing! Everything is going great!” Henry felt like Joey was trying to bludgeon him with words. He certainly wasn’t doing his normal, cheery facade.
“Oh, I couldn’t have missed that. I mean, I’m still in the industry after all, and, uh...” The light, yellow, appeared by Henry’s shoulder. “Oh, look at this.”
Henry was grateful for an end to the conversation, and he was rather curious about what his best memory would be- his wedding, maybe, or the birth of one of his children. Or, maybe something from his own childhood.
The scene changed. It showed Henry in a University lecture hall. He was sketching in his notebook when a black-haired boy sat beside him. The boy peered over at the nice scene Henry was drawing, with deer and trees and the like.
“Hey,” the stranger said to Henry, “that’s really- oh.” At this point, the stranger realized that Henry was too engrossed to hear him and shook him lightly by the shoulder. Finally, Henry turned to look at him. “Hey. That’s really good. You know, we’re going to need partners for the group project. Wanna be mine?”
“Uh, sure,” Henry replied. He then offered him his hand. “Henry Stein. And you are?”
“You can call me Joey.”
Strange for a grown adult to call himself that, Henry thought. “Joey. Well, okay, if that's what you call yourself. Nice to meet you.”
Joey smiled. “Yeah. I get that a lot. Let me let you onto a little secret: once you reach a certain age, you stop caring if you look childish.” Henry was impressed.
The scene changed to the two sitting across from each other in a library, writing on sheets of paper. Henry was still going strong, but Joey was clearly getting bored with it. “Hey, Henry. Wanna go for coffee?”
“You’re done your part already?”
“I can finish it up later. So can you. Come on. I know a great place.” He all but pulled Henry up. The scene changed to a nice little coffee shop where the two were chatting.
“So, Joey, you know what you’re doing after college?”
Joey grinned. “Do I! Let me ask you something Henry. How old do you think I am?”
“Nineteen,” Henry said without thinking. It seemed like a fair bet- a student in a first-year class would most likely be eighteen, nineteen, or maybe twenty, and Joey didn’t look any older than that.
“Wrong! I’m twenty-seven. Isn’t it just crazy how, when you’re young, all you want to do is just be away from your parents and your responsibilities? But just living to do what you want- that gets old fast. Soon, you want something more. You want to make something of yourself, bring something fantastic into the world. And that’s why I’m here. As soon as I feel ready, I’m going to, well, I don’t know yet. But it’ll be big!” At that point, Joey cleared his throat, having realized that he had gone on long enough (not that Henry seemed to mind any). “Anyhow. What are your plans?”
“Geez, I don’t know. Go to whoever hires me, I guess. I mean, I know there’s more you can do with an art degree than people think, but, well...” Henry has been about to make some comments about how he wasn’t the proudest of his major, but that might not have been the best thing to say to someone intent on doing “big things” with something similar. As was, he was at a loss as to how to sound slightly less lame, especially in comparison to Joey’s grand speech.
“Sounds like you need to learn how to dream,” Joey replied simply.
Henry blushed. Nail on the head. “Seems like you could teach me.”
From that point forward, the memory shifted often, showing a flurry of moments the two had spent together. It showed them going to Henry’s first college party together. It showed them hanging out with Sammy, and Joey, always the ladies’ man, teaching them how to flirt. And all the times that Henry had come to Joey for advice. Henry remembered how he had looked up to Joey’s optimism, energy, and suavity. Their nine-year age gap had felt huge back then, and as such, he’d also found Joey very worldly and wise, even if his ideas did need a little grounding sometimes. Joey had often used Henry as a sounding board for his ideas as well, and it wasn’t uncommon for them to start with something wild and nebulous and end up with a concrete plan to follow. Joey had decided that his big, fantastic goal would be starting an animation studio. Henry had been the one to suggest they start with comics and work up from there, a suggestion that Joey, thankfully, listened to. And so, Bendy and Friends Studio was born. One of the final happy memories was of Henry gathering up some film reel and playing the first animation he’d ever made. “We’re gonna make it,” Henry had said, watching the tape.
“Of course we are. I made sure of it,” Joey answered. The scene shifted to show the same animation, a bit more polished now, playing before a crowd.
After that, however, the memories darkened. Henry saw himself working late into the night, often coming home so late that Linda was already asleep, and at times even pushing himself until he passed out on his desk. He saw Sammy lose all interest in Joey’s friendship and complain about him with Wally. When Henry tried to defend him, Sammy had said, “You don’t understand. He’s easier on you. You’re his favourite.” Henry could remember when they were in college and he’d told Joey that he was sure Linda would get bored with him in a couple weeks. Joey had called that nonsense. That had felt good, and Joey had been right. It didn’t feel good now that Joey was saying the same thing, in the same encouraging tone, when Henry told him that they needed to hire more animators because he was working himself to the bone to meet deadlines. Their age gap should have felt smaller now, but it didn’t. It felt huge. Henry was coming to the painful realization that Joey would never see him as an equal. He saw him almost as a ward.
The image of Henry sending in an application to a studio in Florida flashed by, followed by him receiving the acceptance letter. Henry hadn’t even been sure he wanted this to happen. But, here it was.
The ball of light jerked out of present-day Henry’s hand and flew to the midway point between him and Joey. It was blue now. The scene changed to that of Joey’s office. Henry entered.
“So, Henry. I’ve brought you here to talk about that letter you sent me,” the younger Joey said.
Henry shuffled nervously. He knew that Joey had a temper. “Well, there’s not a lot to say. I’m leaving. Two weeks' notice. I’m sorry.” An awkward pause. “Can we still keep touch?”
“Henry, I want to talk about why you want to leave. What always happens when you have your doubts and we talk things over?”
Another silence. Often, what happened was that Henry got praised, then ignored.
“We work something out!” Joey chirped, a big, but somewhat nervous smile on his face. “So, what’s the issue?”
Henry sighed. “It’s not like that, Joey. I already have another job lined up. I can’t just change my mind now.” He really didn’t want to tell Joey everything.
“Can’t we at least try?” Joey's tone was like that of a parent speaking down to a child, and that made Henry angry.
“Fine. You want to know why I’m leaving, Joey? Here’s why. I’ve been telling you for months to hire more animators, but instead of actually listening, you gave me empty encouragement and dismissed me. It seems like you don’t listen to a word I say anymore. Working late all the time is hurting my relationship with Linda and my health. Sammy is giving me the silent treatment because apparently I’m your favourite and even Wally seems to distancing himself from me. And I really don’t like the implication that you’re treating everyone else even worse than me!” Henry had let his voice rise to a yell. Quiet and calm again, he concluded, “Joey, I don’t know how long I could’ve kept this up, and I don’t like what working here has taught me about you. I’m sorry. So, that’s why.”
Joey stood up and turned to face the window. “Get out of my office, and out of my life,” he ordered, voice perfectly calm.
“Get OUT of my office and out of my LIFE!” he screamed.
Henry left, disheartened but not surprised. At that moment, the blue orb landed in current-day Joey’s hands.
“You're nothing without me. You’ll never get anywhere without me,” Joey grumbled, though he wasn't sure Henry could even hear him. He turned around to reveal tears rolling down his cheeks. He wiped them away quickly and sat down at his desk with pen and paper. “Okay, Joey. What are some positives to this situation?”
After a bit of consideration, he began to write.
1. I can finally change the studio’s name.
2. I can change my name and name the studio after myself.
3. I won’t have to share the glory when the studio gets popular.
4. I can find a new confidant that won’t be so damn ungrateful.
The scene changed to show the music department just as everyone was packing up for the day. Joey standing to the side, seemingly for no reason. He grabbed Jack’s shoulder as he walked by, mildly alarming him.
“Huh? Yes, Mr. Drew?” He looked anxious and guilty enough to make Joey wonder if he was actually hiding something.
“Jack! Just the guy I was looking for. Listen, I have some ideas for the company and the cartoons we’re about to release, and I need someone to bounce them off of. You’re a smart guy, why don’t we go get a drink and discuss em’?”
Tension left Jack’s body as he realized that he wasn’t in trouble and they began walking to the exit. “Uh, sure, I guess. Or we could just do it here.”
“No. I want to have a drink with you.”
Jack walked in silence a while. “If I can ask... why?”
Because Jack was quiet, diffident, down to earth, and creative, just like who he was meant to replace. As well, he was about as gentle and approachable a person as you could find, and Joey was still feeling pretty fragile. But of course, Joey couldn’t say that.
The scene changed back to Joey’s office. Sammy came in. “Alright. I just wanted to let you know that I’ve checked with everyone and I think we can make the adjustments you want before the deadline. Also, Jack asked me to tell you something.”
“Jack isn't interested in your friendship. He didn’t think he could wrack up the nerve to tell you, so he asked me to. Please leave him alone. You've been bothering him for over a week and he doesn't know how to say no to you because you're his boss.
"Fair," Joey said, keeping a smile on his face as the light drained from his eyes. The rejection actually stung this time, since it was coming from Jack, who Joey had sought out because he'd seemed too soft to turn him down. Not that Jack had been a great replacement Henry, anyhow. Far too much of a pushover, far too afraid to have his own thoughts. He'd essentially just agreed with everything Joey had said. At that moment, Joey realized that Henry hadn't just been the little friend he'd helped to build up. He was also possibly the closest friend that Joey had ever had. And Joey had driven him away.
The scene faded. This time, there was a door floating in the void. With everyone's memories watched, people could leave now. "I guess that's it," Joey said. He couldn't quite bring himself to meet Henry's eyes. He, along with everyone else, turned to the door. Sammy, Tom, Allison and Susie were making plans to meet after work to talk about how to handle the changes in Sammy and Susie's relationship. Lacie was pushing Bertrum's buttons over his worst memory. Grant asked Norman to meet with him after work. Norman wasn't usually the type to want to talk about his problems, but those cult memories had been a lot, and as Norman's only friend in the studio, Grant wanted to at least give him an opportunity to.
Henry caught Joey's arm before he could go through the door. "Hey. If that door does what we think it'll do, we're going to be back in separate states. Before we go, shouldn't we talk about all that?" Henry looked down to his shoes. "Y'know, unless you still want me out of your life."
For once, Joey had to fight to keep a smile off his face. "No, no. Let's talk."