“I owe some money to some bad, bad people.”
Sunday noon, 13 September 2015
GM: Em can make out the voice of one of his nurses just past the door.
“…and he’s in here. Please try not to make any… noise with all that.”
Emmett: He lifts his head, squinting.
Mouse: “I can try, ma’am,” another voice replies with a lilt. It’s pure as water and smooth as black velvet whiskey.
The door handle to Em’s room turns as a svelte man enters. He looks a few years younger than Em, but still old enough to be out of high school. His chocolate-brown hair is an unruly mass of frizz and curls. His sea-green eyes look over Em’s bedridden, crippled form with a juxtaposition of sympathy and oddly unrelenting cheeriness. A tired, beat-up guitar is slung over his right shoulder as he takes a couple soft-footed steps forward. He’s carrying a large card and several balloons in his free hands. He turns back to the nurse and gives her a shy look as he thanks her for showing him the way to Em’s room.
Emmett: Em gives a small spasm.
“Hey, Mouse. Been a while.”
Mouse: Mouse smiles back. “Hi Em.”
He approaches Em and awkwardly proffers the card and balloons.
Emmett: Em flicks his eyes at his cast-bound arms.
“Maybe tie it around my arm?” he suggests weakly.
Mouse: “I can do that,” Mouse answers nervously, still clearly surprised by Em’s condition. He puts the card on the bedside table and ties the balloons to Em’s nearest cast-bound arm with a dextrous flourish.
“What happened?” he asks softly.
Emmett: “Crippling debt,” Em says simply. “I’d… rather not talk about it, if you don’t mind. How’s prison? Sorry, Tulane?”
The casual shift in topic feels about as natural as the stumps where his body ends.
Mouse: Mouse gives a humorous smile. “It’s not as bad as a prison, Em.” He laughs quietly at the joke. “They make all student residents adhere to a meal plan, though. How’s the hospital food?”
Emmett: “I haven’t tried it yet. They have stuff that looks like food, though.” Em smiles, painfully. “Fizzy still… Fizzy?”
Mouse: “Yes. Fizzy is still Fizzy.” Mouse beams with pride at the mention of his older brother. He adds in a hushed tone, “I didn’t tell him I was going to see you, of course. He doesn’t really like me hanging out with you.”
Emmett: “What’s he gonna do, break my legs again?” He sighs. “I appreciate you coming, though—” He stops. “You, uh. Still living the high life? Gallery openings, whatnot?”
Mouse: Mouse’s eyes drift conspicuously downwards to Em’s lower half.
“Yeah…” is the most manages, his tone deflated. When he forces himself to meet Em’s gaze again he looks like he’s barely holding back tears. “Are… you hungry? Do you need me to get a nurse for you?”
Emmett: “Hey, man,” says Em. “You don’t need to cry over me. I’m gonna bounce back. It’s going to be—”
He starts coughing, an ugly, ragged noise.
Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen with alarm.
Emmett: He eases himself out of the fit, shaking his head. “I’ll be fine, really. It’s the money I have to worry about. They may as well break my back, ha ha…”
The joke falls flat, as the bitterness in his voice becomes apparent. He shakes his head again. “I’m sorry. You don’t want to hear about my problems.”
Mouse: Mouse shakes his head, drying his eyes with his shirt as inconspicuously as he can manage. “It’s okay, Em,” he says, trying his best to be the strong voice of support. “I don’t mind listening. It’s the least I can do.”
Emmett: “If you’re sure.”
Em talks for a bit. His family’s offered to take him in, until he can find a place he can afford. The hospital isn’t so bad. It’ll be nicer than the jail he’ll stay weekends in.
He trails off when he says he hopes to hit the ground running. Finally, he seems to hesitate.
“Mouse… I can trust you, right? For old time’s sake?”
The artist can’t help but remember the 19-year-old bleeding after his older brother had a ‘conversation’ with him.
Mouse: “You know you can trust me.” Mouse’s smile takes a bit to reemerge, but it never leaves his face.
Emmett: “What do you know about…”
He swallows and pauses.
“…the Dixie Mob?”
Mouse: Mouse just looks confused by the name.
Emmett: “It doesn’t matter,” Em says quietly. “The short of it is, I owe some money to some bad, bad people. People even Francis probably doesn’t fuck with. And… and they’re going to hurt my family.”
He hangs his head.
Mouse: “Why would you owe them money?” Mouse asks. “You should know better than to deal with bad people, Em.” His voice might be soft, but the words are hard, even if unintentionally.
Emmett: Tears start to roll down Em’s humiliated face.
“Yeah, I should. I know, man. It was my damn lawyer. He said he had a way I could pay his fees, and I didn’t realize what I was getting into until it was too late.”
He sighs. “I’m sorry. My problem. I shouldn’t have made it yours. Thanks, anyway.”
Mouse: “No. I’m your friend.” There’s still a strain to Mouse’s voice, but there’s sudden strength to it too. “Who’s your lawyer? What did he do? I’ll do whatever I can to help.”
Emmett: “The lawyer’s out of the picture. For better, trust me.” He closes his eyes. “12 grand. I need 12 grand. I can’t ask you to come up with that. It’s out of your hands.”
His hanging head bats one of the balloons tied to his arm out of the way. The image would be funny if it weren’t so pitiful.
Mouse: Mouse’s eyes bug out. “I wish I had that kind of money. You know if I did, Em, I would pay for everything right away.”
He looks almost as helpless as his invalid friend for a moment there.
Emmett: “Of course not, man,” he says. “I’d have to ask your brother, if anybody. And that wouldn’t go well, right? Hates my guts.”
Mouse: Mouse pauses for a moment. Then his eyes then light up as if a switch has been pulled inside his mind. “I could go and ask Francis for help!”
Emmett: “Are you sure he’d have the cash?”
There’s hope in Em’s voice for the first time.
Mouse: “I don’t think he does,” Mouse says uncertainly. “But I could ask him if he knows anybody who could possibly help.” He gives Em a hopeful and hopefully encouraging look.
Emmett: Em’s already shaking his head. “No. I won’t make my problems his. I’ve wronged him enough. If he doesn’t have the means…” He pauses. “You’ve still got some friends in high places, right?”
Mouse: Mouse blinks. “High places?”
Emmett: “You’re a musician, man. I went with you to that concert once, remember? You seemed pretty comfortable with some of the… more well-off crowd.”
Mouse: “Thanks!” Mouse beams. “I get along with pretty much anyone.”
Emmett: “Cécilia Devillers,” he snaps, before composing herself. “I think that was her name, anyway. We had a good time, remember? And she said her mother’s got all sorts of non-profit projects. Maybe we could get some help there?”
Mouse: Dawning understanding lights up Mouse’s face. He gives Em his brightest, most hopeful smile yet.
“I could definitely try! I can talk to my agent about getting in contact. She’s the one with all the connections, y’know?”
Emmett: “That would be… awesome, Mouse. You’re a good friend.” He clears his throat. “The only thing is, whatever we do, it has to be quick. Within the next four days.”
Mouse: “Why’s that?”
Emmett: “Because that’s when they promised to hurt the people I love, Mouse,” he says patiently.
Mouse: Mouse’s eyes widen in shock. “You can count on me, Em!”
Emmett: “You’re the best friend I’ve ever had, Mouse,” Em says.
Mouse: “No worries!” he grins. “You’re a really, really great friend, too!”
Emmett: Em finally cracks a smile.
“Thanks, man. That means a lot.”