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Drag You Down Till You Run Out of Dreams

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The first time Jacob saw Cal, he didn’t see Cal .  He saw his father.

He heard him first, the name “David Lindhagen,” loud and already slurred and addressed to no one in particular.  He knew that sound, knew the heartbreak and the sorrow behind it.  He knew David Lindhagen without ever having to meet him; he was John McDaniels, Theodore Delaney II, Marcus Wringer.  He was every man his mother had ever been with behind his father’s back, every guy she ever used to break her marital vows.

Till death do us part .  What a joke.

The tone was too familiar, too much like his father, and too close to him for comfort.  He had steadily set up blockades all through his life, little walls to keep people out.  His parents were the one reason he was semi-glad that no one cared enough to get to know him; Mommy didn’t love me enough and Daddy was sad and soft and a drunk until the day he died seemed like too much baggage, too much of a turn-off to a relationship (or a one-night stand).

He had made up his mind to leave, to ignore the stranger and depart with the latest of his companions.  Hell, he actually had ; he’d walked out with that night’s blonde on his arm and left the man with his rant about David Lindhagen alone.  It was his usual successful night, and he’d thought it was the end of it, that he’d never have to hear from the all-too-familiar man again.

When he returned the next night, it was clear that it wasn’t the end of it, that the man hadn’t dealt with his issues or gone off to lick his wounds elsewhere.  No, instead, he had returned, clearly thinking his answers lay in the bottom of a glass of vodka cranberry -- really, of all possible beverages, that was his comfort drink of choice for getting smashed? -- and not in him.

That was when Jacob finally looked at the man.  It took mere seconds to take in his baggy suit, his awful haircut, his trashy style.  For a second, he still didn’t see Cal because there was someone else in his place at the bar, whiskey and ice -- now that was a real drink -- clinking in a glass, horrible 70s haircut falling long and wild over trashy clothing that looked like it came from a thrift store on the worst side of town.

Even when he blinked and the apparition was gone, the resemblance -- not physically, but psychologically -- was uncanny.

That was why he ended up waving the man over, introducing himself and offering his services.  He had moved without processing the action, unsure what possessed him to do it.  He never gave help, never tried to train someone else in his ways.  His life was glamorous and mysterious, and he certainly wasn’t going to share his secrets.  (And if a little part of him whispered that he was lying to himself with that, that his life looked glamorous without fulfilling its appearance, that it was lonely and barren, it didn’t matter to anyone else).

No, he simply could bring himself to lead anyone else astray, wasn’t able to bring some wayward, down-on-his-luck sod into his life.  Sure, he deserved the loneliness of one-night-stands and bedding strangers, but he wasn’t going to drop that burden on anyone else.

But this man -- Cal, he’d learned -- managed to worm his way through Jacob’s blockades, to strike right at his core.  He overwhelmed better judgment and selfish guilt in one fell swoop.  It was the man’s damn familiarity, his ridiculous similarity to Donald Palmer in all his sad sack incompetence.  It was the way his baggy suit hung on his frame, how he drank solely with his straw despite the inefficiency of it, how his hair didn’t suit him and his posture was slumped.

It was like watching his father in exact detail, and he knew each and every mannerism the man would have before he’d shown them.  He knew the reasons, too.  The baggy suit because it wasn’t worth getting one tailored to work in the cubicle of a dead-end job before going home to messy children.  Drinking with a straw to limit alcohol intake, to make it a smoother process than simply gulping down too much and losing control or being tempted to drive drunk with children around.  A crappy haircut because he didn’t care to maintain it anymore, married -- though, evidently, not happily -- and turned complacent by it.  Bad posture from years on the couch, carrying children, crumpling from exhaustion after particularly bad days.

They started spending more time with each other, Jacob slowly but surely dropping knowledge -- he wasn’t going to call it wisdom or anything like that; he didn’t deserve that credit for teaching some impressionable stranger the tricks of a life that was slowly driving him insane -- to his protege.

The results, at least, were obvious.  Cal looked better -- that trip to the shopping center had done wonders for his hair and wardrobe, to the point that he actually looked semi-decent -- even if he still acted the same.  He still hunched slightly, still anxiously twisted at the ring on his finger when he was nervous, still ranted about David Lindhagen whenever the opportunity came up, and Jacob was slowly chipping away at it.

It was hard, though.  Each day that he spent in close proximity to Cal Weaver was a day he spent with the ghost of his father.  He’d told Cal that the man reminded him of someone, that he was helping him for that reason, and it was true.  Cal didn’t realize how true.

Cal didn’t know that, when Jacob tossed the man’s shoes over the mall’s railing, he was flashing back to his mother tossing out his father’s shoes, demanding that he finally shape up and look the part.  The next day -- when her husband showed up with the same shoes and clothing -- she’d brought Jacob with her in the car to meet a “work friend,” fobbing him off with a television and some action figures before disappearing.  It took too long for him to ask why she and her “work friend” were talking in the bedroom.

Cal didn’t know that, as they sat in the bar talking about how to pick up a woman, they were sitting in his dad’s favorite establishment.  That he’d gone there once to lug his dad back home, barely seventeen, the smell of booze tangy and rich in the air and the women clustered around the bar, drinks clasped between elegantly manicured nails

Cal didn’t know that Jacob had remembered that trip the night his father died, the night his whole lifestyle began.  He had only gone for a drink, really, but the way that first woman had been looking at him had drawn him in.  Rhonda Maximoff, her name was, Russian and auburn-haired and all kinds of sultry as she stared at him.  They had gone home together that night, lips locked in a fiery dance that ended with them in his bed.  That fire had been gone the next morning, replaced by some kind of haunting sadness in her eyes, an emptiness as she regarded him and, in her thick accent, bid him goodbye.  She didn’t leave her number, and he didn’t offer his.  He knew what she wanted, even if it was his first time: no strings.  He’d gone back the next night and the night after that, and he never left alone, but the women never stayed, never spoke to him .  They spoke to the mysterious stranger, they slept with the mysterious stranger, and they left the mysterious stranger.  It simply had become his life.

He can see Rhonda in the woman -- Kate -- that he selects for Cal to finally try bringing home.  She’s wild and passionate in a way Rhonda’s slow fire wasn’t, but now, having spent so much time looking past barriers to see what people really want, who they really are, he can see the same darkness.  Something had been wrong with Rhonda, something lurking in her past; Kate had the same.

Watching Cal was a painful experience.  He blundered his way through it, awkward and stilted and creepy in places.  He was borderline rude, lost and confused.  He barely made it through.  It was honesty that ended up winning him the girl -- Jacob wondered if that was the universe trying to tell him something, but, no, the universe couldn’t care enough about his pathetic life to bother sending a message to him, -- and they slowly but surely made their way out of the bar.

He was left seated at the bar, alone once again.  His drink was in his hand, and he was aimlessly clinking the ice against the glass.  The bar was loud, but it felt too quiet, too lonely.  He’d had a taste of companionship for a few short days, and now it was gone; he was back to his usual life, one of empty smiles and meaningless sex without actually knowing the other person.  In some ways, it felt like he’d lost far too little for what he deserved and far too much for what he wanted.

Still, it was easy to slip back into the mindset, to go back to player rather than coach, womanizer rather than trainer.  There was that blonde Cal had mentioned, and he’d said he was planning to bring her home.  Might as well follow through.