The next day, over lunch Samantha told Jason she was going to slip out that evening to catch a movie. She told him not to bother to call her when he left his office; that she probable wouldn’t be home. He studied her for a moment, then nodded and asked her no questions. If he doubted her word he kept it to himself.
After work she stopped at the deli to pick up some French bread. She would add her own garlic before taking it over to Allen’s.
“Hello,” Allen said a few hours later when he answered his door.
Samantha walked into an apartment much like her own. She stepped in and looked around to see the same depressing wallpaper and the same tired carpet as in her own a few doors down.
“Can I offer you some wine?” Allen said from behind. She turned to see him standing there with two glasses in his hands.
“Thank you,” she said, taking one of the glasses. “The lasagna smells wonderful.”
Over dinner they chatted about life in New York. Allen was smart with a wicked sense of humor. Samantha couldn’t help but compare him to Jason, and Allen came out winning in every category except for money. And well, she supposed she’d have to wait to see how he measured up in bed.
After dinner they moved the conversation on to the sofa and in no time she found herself in his embrace; his hands running through her hair, his lips kissing hers.
Later, after she and Allen lay spent in his bed, she let her mind wander. She began wondering why she hadn’t met Allen first, before Jason; but then again that wasn’t fair. She did like Jason, and for more than just his money, although that didn’t hurt. Let’s face it, Allen would never be able to afford to take her to the fancy restaurants, the shows or the weekends in the Hamptons.
But it wasn’t like she was looking for a husband. She only wanted to date and have a good time. And she and Jason had made no promises to each other.
“So who’s that guy I keep seeing you with?” Allen’s question brought her from her thoughts.
“What guy is that?” she asked, trying to be coy. Also trying to remember when Allen might have seen her with Jason.
“Oh, is there more than one?” he chuckled.
“No. Just Jason.”
“Is he your boyfriend?”
She sighed. “I suppose he would call himself that, but we haven’t made any declarations. We’ve only been dating a few weeks, and I don’t even know that I’m looking for a boyfriend.”
“So, you’re not going to get all possessive on me and freak out if you see me with some other girl?”
Samantha blinked, not exactly what she expected to hear. “No, no freaking out,” then she asked, “So do you have a girlfriend?”
“Nope, but I like women and I have a few that I see from time to time.”
Samantha wasn’t sure if Allen was full of shit or not. Was he trying to impress her? Was he trying to compensate because she was dating Jason? Or was he really a womanizer? And then she asked herself the real question; did she care? No, she enjoyed his company, but seriously, she didn’t see her and Allen going anywhere, he was just someone to date.
Seth made his way through the San Francisco airport to the baggage claim. He had packed light, only planning to stay the weekend. Toby didn’t know he was coming, Seth knew better than that. Toby would have just told him not to come. Seth also felt he might get a better picture of what was happening if he showed up unannounced.
Gathering up his lone suitcase, Seth left the airport and got into a cab. He gave the driver Toby’s address and sat back rehearsing in his mind what he would say when he and Toby were face to face.
He had claimed a family emergency to get his boss to let him off early on Friday. Seth had booked a flight that should have him at Toby’s apartment around six. He had no idea what time Toby got home from work and was prepared to wait outside of his building. Seth was determined to get answers, but he wasn’t sure he would know what to do once he had them.
The taxi came to a stop in front of a building that looked as if is should be condemned, if it wasn’t already. Seth turned to the driver, “This is the place? Are you sure?”
“Two twenty-seven West Eighty-Seventh. Yes, this is it,” the driver confirmed.
Seth paid the driver and got out of the cab. Making his way up the walk to the dilapidated building he wondered how he would convince Toby to buzz him in. When he got to the door he realized the worry was for nothing as there was a wedge of wood blocking the door ajar. Some security. He pushed on through and took the stairs to the second floor.
He found Toby’s apartment easily enough and knocked on the door; hoping against hope Toby would be home.
“It’s open, Chase,” Toby shouted from the other side.
Seth opened the door and stuck his head in. “It’s not Chase,” he said to Toby who was sitting on his bed over in the corner of the one room studio. Seth stepped in and saw that Toby was messing with something on his lap. At the sound of Seth’s voice he froze; looking up at Seth with eyes full of surprise. That surprise quickly turned to rage. “What the fuck are you doing here?” he spat.
Seth stepped closer, seeing that Toby had a glass pipe and a few balls of tin foil on a tray in his lap. “I wanted to see you; to make sure you were okay,” he tried to explain.
“I told you not to come. I told you to wait,” Toby shouted as he slid the tray with the foil and pipe into the drawer in his nightstand. “What part of that didn’t you understand?”
“Toby, you wouldn’t answer my emails or return my phone calls. Then I get this call from you in the middle of the night. I was worried.”
“Well, you don’t need to be. I’m fine. I don’t need you to take care of me.”
“But I’m your best friend…”
“Used to be my best friend,” Toby interrupted. “When we were in college, but we’re not in college anymore. We don’t live in the same city, hell; we don’t even live in the same state. So just how can you still be my best friend?”
“Toby, you’re like a brother to me. I know you’re using meth and I’m afraid you’re in over your head.”
“What the fuck do you know about it?” Toby was now standing, shouting at Seth face to face.
“I know you’ve been acting really weird and I just walked in to find you getting ready to smoke some tina.”
“And you’re one to talk. How many times did I get to baby-sit your ass while you were fucked up out of your mind?”
“This is different, Toby, and you know it.”
Toby closed his eyes and shook his head. “I’m fine, Seth. I’m not in trouble. I’m fine. Now, go home.”
“I’d like to stay the weekend, spend some time with you,” Seth tried to reason.
“You’re just here to check up on me and make yourself feel better. I’m fine, go home.”
Seth sat down on the bed. “No.”
“Fuck!” Toby shouted.
“What’s going on?” Chase said having walked into the apartment to witness Toby screaming at some unknown guy.
“Chase,” Toby turned to his friend. “Hey.”
“Who’s he?” Chase asked.
Toby sighed. “That’s Seth. He and I were friends in college.”
“Is he the one that keeps calling… the one whose calls you don’t take?”
Toby nodded. “Yeah.”
Chase looked from Seth to Toby then announced, “I’m out of here, you two obviously need to work this out. Toby, call me later,” and turned to exit the apartment.
“Chase, wait,” Toby called after him.
“Later,” Chase shouted over his shoulder, already in the hall.
Toby turned back to Seth. “You need to be gone when I get back.” He turned and ran out after Chase.
“That went well,” Seth mumbled to himself after Toby was gone. He sat on the bed a while waiting to see if Toby would return. Looking around the dank apartment, he noted it was worse than the dorm room they had once shared.
Seth got up from the bed and began poking around. There were dirty clothes piled up in one corner, dirty dishes in the sink that looked like they had been there for weeks. He opened up the refrigerator; it was empty except for a six pack of wine coolers, some bottled water and take out that was taking on a life of its own.
Toby had looked healthy enough, a little thinner but nothing like the crystal queens Seth had seen before with the sunken eyes and missing teeth. So maybe it wasn’t so bad; or maybe it was just early. The rage in Toby’s eyes had spoken volumes to Seth. Never had he seen Toby like that, never seen him so angry and… scared he supposed. Yeah, it was fear he had seen there. Fear of what, though? Of Seth seeing the truth, maybe? There was a part of Toby that knew he was in trouble, but the drugs were talking louder than the fear.
Seth awoke later that night in a strange bed to the sound of some one fumbling with the door. He sat up and turned on the lamp on the nightstand in time to see Toby stumble through the door.
“Fuck. Are you still here?” Toby slurred, obviously having had a few too many to drink.
“Yeah,” Seth said getting out of bed to give Toby a hand.
“Go away. I can do it,” Toby said pulling out of Seth’s grasp and falling on to the sofa. “Just go home, Seth. Please.”
Toby eyed him and nodded, the fight seemed to drain from him.
“Let me help you get out of these clothes,” Seth said bending down to untie Toby’s shoes.
“I’m okay, Seth. Really, I am.”
“I know,” Seth said, now was not the time. “Come on, let’s get some sleep. We can talk tomorrow.”
The next morning Seth awoke in Toby’s cramped bed with Toby spread out, hogging most of the space. Seth slipped out of bed and made his way across the room to the bathroom. He took a quick shower and put on some fresh clothes. He knew there was nothing to eat and doubted there was much in the way of coffee so he’d have to go out for a bit. He had no idea where the closest diner was but maybe he’d get lucky and find something.
Showered and dressed he checked on Toby who was still sleeping soundly. Seth grabbed his wallet and left the apartment. He didn’t have to walk far to find a café and slipped in placing an order to go. Maybe he could get Toby to eat something.
When he arrived back at the apartment Toby hadn’t moved. “Hey,” he said nudging the sleeping form. No response. “I brought breakfast.”
Seth gave up and sat down on the sofa to eat his food. He turned on the television to find the cable wasn’t hooked up. Toby’s computer sat on a desk by the bed. Seth decided surfing the net would have to do for entertainment until Toby woke up.
“You’re still here.” Toby’s voice startled Seth.
“I’m still here,” he answered. “Are you hungry? I got some breakfast from the diner down the street.”
Toby moaned. “No thanks.” He sat up on the side of the bed. “So when are you leaving?”
“My flight isn’t until Sunday noon.”
“You could probably get it bumped up to an earlier flight if you tried.”
“Yeah, but I want to stay here with you.”
Toby got up, walking across to the bathroom. “But I don’t want you here.”
“I get that.”
“So? What gives then?”
“I care about you, Toby. You aren’t going to change that no matter how rude you are to me.”
“Okay,” Toby said walking back in and flopping down on the bed. “Let’s get this over with then.”
“Get what over with?”
“Say whatever it is you came here to say.”
“I didn’t come here to say anything. I came here to listen. I came here for you to tell me what’s going on.”
“And if I do, you’ll leave?”
“Yeah, if it’s really what you want.”
Toby sighed. “Work is hell. You would never believe how cut throat it is.” Toby spoke in a disjointed monotone. “I was drowning, sinking. I wasn’t making the grade. Crystal gives me an edge. I can do the late nights to get the projects done. A little bump in the morning is a hundred times better than coffee. Another bump for lunch and I’m good until nine or ten. My output is through the roof. The boss is not only noticing me, he’s assigning me his personal accounts. I’m keeping it under control. I’m not getting wasted except on the weekends when I need to blow off some steam. It’s not what you think, I’m not addicted. I’m just using it to get ahead at work. You’d be surprised at how many people use it.”
“I think you’d be surprised at how many aren’t. You’re playing with fire, Toby, and eventually you’ll get burnt.”
“It’s under control, okay? Now, you have your answers, will you please just go back home?”
“Promise me one thing,” Seth said.
“Promise me that when it’s no longer under control you’ll call me. You’ll give me a chance to help.”
“I can handle it,” Toby argued.
“Just promise me, if it gets to be too much…”
“Promise me, then I’ll go.”
“Okay, okay. I promise.”
Seth arrived back at his apartment Saturday evening feeling more depressed over Toby than ever. He had really hoped for a different out come to his trip.
He thought of Cole and their conversation about Toby the other night. He wondered if Cole might have some insight as to what was going on out there in San Francisco. He wished he could call Cole, but alas although he had given Cole his number, Cole had yet to reciprocate. Seth supposed he could go over to Cole’s apartment but dropping in unannounced or uninvited seem rude and boyfriendish.
He thought of calling Samantha, but she didn’t seem to take his concern for Toby seriously, besides, she would probably be out with Jason. So Seth decided to head out to the Forum and see if he could find Cole. Taking a quick shower and changing his clothes helped him feel a little better, wash the trip off of his skin anyway. He then left to see if Cole was out tonight.
When he walked into the club, he first went to the bar for a drink. It had been a rough weekend so far and a stiff drink sounded good.
As he took a drink of his bourbon and coke he scanned the room looking for Cole. He found him soon enough, but not exactly what he was hoping to see. Cole was there on the dance floor with a young blond. They were dancing close, Cole’s hands roaming all over the blond’s body; kissing him; pushing his hands down the boy’s jeans. The boy was responding in kind. Seth watched the show until Cole took the lad’s hand and led him toward the back room.
Disgusted, Seth downed his drink and left the bar. He had liquor at home and could drown his sorrows there in peace.
Samantha waited until it was noon in Austin to call. She really needed to talk to Seth.
“Hello,” he answered. Obviously she had awakened him.
“Hey, Seth.” She felt bad, she should have waited, but she was dying to talk to him. She had slept with Allen Friday night. Then Jason had called her Saturday and she had spent the rest of the weekend with him. When he asked her how the movie was she had simply told him she had changed her mind and had stayed in instead, going to bed early. Now she was feeling the need to tell someone, and who else but Seth?
“Hey,” Seth answered, not sounding like himself.
“You’ll never guess what I did this weekend?”
“Are you there?”
“Um, yeah. Hang on a sec, will ya?”
She could hear some muffled noise in the background and knew him well enough to know he had laid the phone down while he relieved his bladder. Sure enough she heard the toilet flush and then he was back.
“Okay,” he said, not sounding much better.
“So, I was telling you about my weekend,” she started again.
“Um, Sam, hang on again, okay?”
She waited, wondering what he was doing now. Then she could hear him retching and finally the toilet flush again.
“Sam?” He sounded weak.
“Seth, are you okay?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Are you hung over? Or is it the flu?”
“I drank a little last night,” Seth answered. He honestly had no idea just how much. He remembered very little after he got back home from the club.
“Out with Cole?” she asked with a little tease in her voice.
“No. I went to San Francisco this weekend.”
“Oh,” the wind fell from her sails. “How was Toby?”
“Not good. He is doing meth, Sam. He threw me out, didn’t want to see me. So when I got home yesterday I went out and ran into Cole, he was out with someone else.”
“Oh, Seth. I’m sorry. Please don’t tell me you spent the rest of the night crying in your beer.”
“It was bourbon, actually.”
“Well, did you at least pick up a hottie to make you feel better?”
“No, I came home alone.”
“Seth…” She felt bad for him.
“Toby’s in trouble, Sam. He’s in trouble and he won’t talk to me. He threw me out. He told me to leave.”
“He doesn’t want you to see him like that.”
“But we’re friends. I want to help him.”
“I know you do. But you can’t, Seth, not until he wants the help. He has to…”
“Sam, um, hang on again,” Seth interrupted.
He must have laid the phone down a little closer to the bathroom because she could hear him retching even louder, then finally the toilet flushed. She was starting to get worried when he finally came back to the phone.
“Sam, was there something you wanted to tell me?” He sounded awful.
“Yeah, but it will keep. It sounds like you need to go back to bed.”
“You get to feeling better and call me later.”
“Okay. Hey, Sam?”
“Don’t sleep with your neighbor guy, don’t do that to Jason. If you don’t want to stay with Jason, then just end it, but don’t lead him on. Okay?”
The blood drained from her face. “Yeah,” was all she could say.