He was going to Lizzy's, and he needed reinforcements. Someone to tell him that there were thousands of girls in L.A. he could call. Not sleep with, necessarily, but he could call. Alison didn't pick up, so he dialed Christina.
There had been an idea, a witty line, banging around in his head all morning, molding the walls. "I've just watched four episodes of Spartacus, and now I have a craving for penis," he said, holding his free hand over his right ear as the bus rumbled through a tunnel. It was one of those lightly blustery almost-evenings that required a sweater and sunglasses, and the whole city was hung out to dry above him.
"Oh," Christina said. "I'm making paprika lamb, for a dinner party."
"I hate dinner parties," he said. The bus made a sharp tilt, and he slid down the plastic seat until his lower back hit railing. "Why didn't you invite me?"
"You still sound sick. Have you eaten at all today?"
"Of course." Vincent rubbed his throat, defensively. "I had a cream doughnut with Robitussin this morning."
"You had a cream doughnut." He could visualize her hand, dusted with paprika, settling on her hip. It was the maternal, Bounty-commercial thing to do.
"I thought it would be unguent."
Across from him, a girl in her late teens held a baby on her lap. The infant squirmed, grabbed the girl's glittering hoop earring, and tossed it to the dirty floor. With no apparent change in emotion, the girl balanced the baby on one knee, scooped up the fallen jewelry with her magenta nails, and sank the hoop in her right earlobe, like a boss.
"Because naturally you know what 'unguent' means, but you ate a--" Christina paused, probably shifting the phone more comfortably in the crook of her neck. "Listen, I could try to nip by and bring you -- oh wait, Geoffrey is shaking his head. Geoffrey is saying that we should let you die."
"I cried at your wedding. I baptized your union with my tears. I am a good dog, and I just want to go home."
"I thought we weren't going to mention that Pedigree commercial, ever again. Or anything pertaining to last month's Crying Game." Last month's Crying Game had been dog-themed, and naturally, he had been destroyed on all scoring fronts -- first tearfall, first face wipe, first audible sob.
Vincent scoffed. "I should never get something so capable of loving me. I need a Persian. White, of course. Is that racist?" He hoped there weren't any bloggers on this bus.
"God, Persians." She laughed, silky. "When I first moved out to L.A., I dated this guy who had a Persian. He called her 'Mommy,' and he'd chase and squeak at it. I felt like I was in Blue Velvet."
"That's clever," he said. "Your guests will enjoy that one." He wondered if Christina and Geoffrey would use the swan-shaped decanter that he bought them for their wedding, which seemed ages ago.
"I have to go now," she said. "Be well."
"I'm trying," he said, even though he was already feeling the squirm around his chest.
Alison called him back, just as he reached his stop.
"Husband," she said as the bus doors chuffed shut behind him.
"Wife," he said, and put his forearm to his face as another coughing fit overtook him on the sidewalk. "I saw four episodes of Spartacus and now I must suck cocks."
"And that's different from your daily schedule because--"
"Too easy, Brie. Shouldn't you be doing splits in a silk romper for a bunch of Russian sailors?"
"I'll have you know that the only vigorous slapping in my house is the clothes in the dryer. Don is picking me up in ten minutes for Jeff Bridges Night."
"What's Jeff Bridges Night?"
"Oh, you know. Bowling, White Russians, guitar karaoke, eyepatches."
"Right, and talking about how much cooler your Community friends are than your Mad Men friends." Phone propped to ear, Vincent folded his arms and bent at the waist in a forward sulk against a post, and the poor posture was soothing. "I don't approve of what they're doing with you and that lawyer on the show."
"It's our undeniable chemistry. I can't help it if everything I touch turns into Bad Touch."
"Ugh. You sound like Joel McHale. You smell like Joel McHale."
"That's the first time I've ever heard you call him by name. I saw Money the other day, you know."
The reference took a moment to register. "Money. You saw Money," he croaked, waiting for the second bus that would take him to his so-not-a-date. "My family hasn't seen Money." He had forgotten all about that project, really. The scorched blond hair. The chintzy 80s everything. The acrid dialogue that had never felt good in his mouth. The British critics had savaged the whole endeavor, and nobody else had cared, and maybe he was always going to be Pete Campbell, which would be fine, surprisingly disturbingly fine.
"Well, I was doing pilates," Alison said, and at that point all the decisions he had made that day, from the bus to Spartacus to Robitussin doughnut to the hazily shaved face to the unusually shiny loafers on his lightly sweating feet, conspired to collapse him. "You're still going to Lizzy's?"
"Yes," he said, as his throat folded in on him, and it occurred to him that maybe Season 4 had done a number on him, after all, just fucking buried him with the roots and the worms. "I miss her all the time."
And because Alison was cheery but not delicate, because Alison dug holes in conversation and pushed people in, he hung up before she could say something profound, like "You shouldn't fuck her, Vinnie. This is real life."
From the second bus on his memory became impressionistic. He took off his jacket and walked seven blocks, breaking in the shoes. At the door he saw her clothes first-- a powder-blue crew-neck sweatshirt with a tear in the collar and some breed of yoga pants. Lizzy's hair was damp and curled slightly against her neck, and he thought about the three different pales of his coworkers, Christina being sort of lead-based courtesan draped in furs across a couch, Alison being soft-serve French vanilla in direct sunlight, and Lizzy being -- well, amphibian, the stretched webbing between a frog's toes, or maybe those plastic lunchboxes that no-one wanted in grade school because they showed everything inside
Upon seeing the gentle sleep lines in her face, the mild surprise (because he told everybody that he was going to Lizzy's except Lizzy herself), Vincent immediately relinquished himself to the idea that this wasn't what he wanted, necessarily, but it was what Pete wanted, and underneath the achey illness, he heard his bones clicking into place.
He was on a doorstop, with hedges flanking him. There was still time to ruin the night and save himself, like that one time in 2007 he went on a date-ish with Charity Shea, and she had said, Politically conscious Afro-funk isn't, like, really in my wheelhouse, and he had said, That's because you listen to Snow Patrol.
But this was Lizzy with her hand against the doorframe letting him in, and Lizzy putting her back to the muddled peach-color foyer wall, framed by two Kiki Smith prints.
"Christina told me you were sick," she said. "And Alison told me not to sleep with you."
"That wench," he said. "How do you feel about Jeff Bridges?"
And that's how they ended up dancing the Twist to vintage Arcade Fire at a West Hollywood bowling alley at 1 a.m., giddy with cheap wine and organic potato chips that Lizzy crushed under her high heels, and he didn't even remember what dress she had changed into, but it was swirly and good.
"Can I ask you a question," he said at her doorstop again, and she dropped the key, and he kneeled down to pick it up from the "el" in the Welcome mat. "Why Scientology?"
Lizzy looked down at him looking up, and from the ground he touched her ankle to steady himself. "There's that movie, The Fox and the Hound," she said, her ankle trembling a little, like her foot would snap off in his hand. "How they're friends, but it can't last. And I feel like both of them, all at once."
Then her legs were wobbling up to her skirt, and her back was crumbling under his fingertips, all of it, shoulders to spine, and then they weren't so much kissing as rubbing masks, scratchy, crazy-cut paper masks that would lose their glitter in the morning.
(and hours later when he tiptoed to the magnolia-scented bathroom, pulling his reeking clothes back on, there was Pete in the mirror, calm little mouth, saying, Now you see.)