The Cold Inside
By AL BRUNO III
Saturday November 12, 1994
“The pizza’s on me,” Tristam said opening his wallet. “Well, my Mom really.”
Drew peered cautiously inside, “How much did she give you?
They had gathered, as they did every Saturday, in the living room of Greg Fletcher’s house. With a couch, a love seat and two folding chairs there was just enough room for the whole gang. Their papers, pencils and dice crowded the coffee table. Greg sat with a milk crate of D&D books to one side of him and a portable CD player thrumming out the soundtrack from Conan the Barbarian on the other.
Everyone except for Rich was in their casual clothes. Rich he had come straight over from work, still wearing his Burger Clown uniform he reeked of sweat and secret spices. He smiled appreciatively at the fifty, “Behold the power of guilt.”
From her place on the couch between them Drew snatched it away “The ink is still wet on this!”
More care than money had been spent on the adornment of the room, the furniture was mismatched but comfortable. The walls were decorated with framed photographs of the Fletcher family and luxurious paintings of religious scenes. The Dali print was Tristam’s favorite, there was just something about it he loved.
The curtains were drawn back from the bay windows bathing the room in light, setting the gilded edges of the picture frames glimmering.
Tristam glared playfully at Drew, “You give that back this minute young lady or sometime during the game, when you least expect it, I will give you a wet wobbie the likes of which you have never seen.”
Warren bristled from his place on the love seat, “Just freakin try it.”
Everyone froze. Warren glanced from them to the mayonnaise jar full of dollar bills on the mantle. “I said freakin’.”
“Keep it up Warren,” Adelphos said, “you and that Swear Jar are going to put Greg through divinity school.”
The Swear Jar had been the idea of Greg’s Dad. In Tristam’s opinion Greg’s Dad was a pretty laid back guy for a minister. Sometimes they could hear him in his den working on his sermons with Iron Maiden playing on his stereo.
Drew gave the fifty back, “Gotta love it when the parents are wrong.”
“Your parents are frequently wrong?” Yusuf leaned forward in his chair.
“And yours aren’t?” Adelphos gave him a funny look.
Yusuf shook his head “Never.”
Tristam pocketed the bill and went back to looking over his character sheet. He’d only been playing with them since October and he sometimes had a hard time keeping track of it all. The different stats, the modifiers and all the charts relating to said stat and its modifier. And the dice! How could one game need so many different kinds? Dice with four sides, six sides, eight sides and even twenty sides! Couldn’t they just use the normal kind?
“What did your Mother do that was wrong?” Drew asked.
“She punished me for something I didn’t do. She thought I cut the assembly but I didn’t. I was innocent.”
Warren snorted and grumbled under his breath.
“I wouldn’t be here now if Greg hadn’t vouched for me.”
“All in a day’s work.” Greg looked up from his dog-eared Monster Manual “My next project will be world peace.”
“Oh I see.” Adelphos leaned back and laced his fingers behind his head, “And what are you going to do with the rest of your weekend?”
Greg thought a moment then smiled, “Marry Gillian Anderson.”
Rich gave him a hurt look, “Hey now I had dibs.”
“Tristam,” Warren leaned forward, “do you honestly mean to tell me that you didn’t do something worthy of a grounding last week?”
Tristam narrowed his eyes “What is your problem?”
“You have the temerity to sit there and claim you‘re innocent,” Warren said. “You’re not innocent of anything.”
Drew buried her face in her hands, “Here we go again.”
Yusuf spoke up, “I would like to say at this point that we are all sinful in the eyes of God and only through his divine grace-”
“Wait.” Rich interrupted, “Where does that leave me? I’m agnostic.”
Yusuf frowned sadly, “Your goose is pretty much cooked.”
Rich pounded his fist into his hand “Nuts!”
“Yes you are.” Yusuf managed to say before starting to laugh
“All right!” Greg waved a hand in the air to restore order, “No one here is going to H- E- Double hockey sticks unless they have a note from their parents. I must insist.”
“He’s stern but fair, I like that.” Drew said admiringly.
Adelphos agreed “And he’s fair but stern.”
“Sternly fair?” Rich started laughing again.
“Fairly stern?” Yusuf added and then they were all off again. They only sour faces were Warren’s and Tristam’s
Warren asked “What I want to know is how long is it going to be before you sell us out?”
“What?” Tristam almost dropped his dice.
“When are you going to do something to us to get you back in the good graces of the Pretty Boys?”
“I can’t believe you used to call us the Pretty Boys and I can’t believe you’re obsessing over this when you should be obsessing over... you know... pies.”
“Cocksucker!” Warren grabbed a book from the coffee table and threw it at him.
Tristam ducked the slim paperback and was on his feet his arm already drawing back. Greg and Yusuf got between them. Drew was too stunned to move. Rich just stared at the copy of The Dancers at the End of Time lying on the floor, “...my book...”