|Erin Ptah (ptahrrific) wrote,|
@ 2010-10-10 03:48 pm UTC
|Entry tags:||story: state of grace|
Fandom: The Colbert Report
Disclaimer/Warnings: See the table of contents.
Hat Tip to the helpful crowd over at little_details for background on this one. The movie is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy; note the relevant passage from the books.
Clips referenced: apologizing to Geraldo; the Eye of Sauron; Aragorn's names.
August 10, 2007
Stephen handed the prescription across the counter as automatically as possible, then put it out of his mind as he carried George around the aisles, filling a basket with baby aspirin and cough medicine, diapers and wipes, no-tears shampoo and no-screaming-burning-pain aftershave.
When he had gotten ahold of everything on Charlene's list, he strolled down the pharmaceutical aisle, pointing out the drugs that sponsored his show and baby-talking his way through their names, until the rest of the twenty-five minutes were up. Trying once more not to think too hard, he shuffled up to the register and retrieved the bag with a little bottle of pills.
He wasn't going to need them. He wasn't. But as long as he had the right to them, he might as well take advantage of it, right?
Besides, if it did somehow turn out that the doctor was on to something—with her fancy technical talk about antidepressants only working on depression, but having potentially catastrophic reactions for people with other disorders, and something about a bipolar spectrum and comorbidity with PTSD and blah, blah, blah, if doctors couldn't keep their own diagnoses straight he didn't see why he should have to—but if there did end up being something to it, well, it couldn't hurt to be prepared, right?
No reason he had to mention it to anyone, of course. One disorder was quite enough for them to deal with.
As he was unloading his basket at the checkout, he noticed that one of the brightly colored candy bars lined up before the register had somehow found its way into his pile. "George!" he chided, tapping the baby reproachfully on the nose. "Did you sneak this in there? Because you can't even eat solid food yet, you know that."
The clerk, a young woman who had somehow managed to stay employed even with green streaks in her hair, insisted on holding onto his credit card until he signed the receipt, then held them up next to each other and frowned. "These signatures don't match."
"What do you mean, don't match? Of course they match. It's my—"
She showed him the receipt, and Stephen sucked in a breath. Instead of his normal, made-for-portraits elegant flourish, the paper bore a childish printing: Stevie C.
A second later, he pasted on his most charming grin. "Just testing. You passed! Congratulations. Now gimme."
"So I guess you heard the diagnosis...?"
"Tentative diagnosis," corrected Tracey. Even in veterinary medicine, you learned to be picky about these things.
"It's still a good sign," opined Charlene. "It's something to work with. It's a starting point."
The kids had been assigned to their fathers for the afternoon, giving Tracey and Charlene the chance to have something like an actual date; and Charlene's knack for finding restaurants had led them to a sunny café Tracey hadn't even heard of. Now that they had settled in and ordered, she was torn between wanting to ask more about Stephen and wanting to spend a few hours putting him out of her mind.
"It's going to be a lot to deal with," she said, vaguely enough that the conversation could go either way.
"You don't have to."
"What do you mean?"
"If—if it's too much," stammered Charlene, pushing stuffed grape leaves around her plate. "If Stephen's more than you can handle—it's what his ex-wife did, took their kids, cut her losses, and got out of the way—it isn't what I would want, but—don't stay in this only because you think you're not allowed to leave, all right? Because that, that only makes everyone miserable."
Idly running her thumb over the curlicues engraved on the base of her spoon, Tracey shook her head. "It's all right. Jon and I have been talking, and...we can do this. I can do this."
Charlene gave her a relieved smile before taking a sip of her drink.
"What about you?" asked Tracey suddenly. "Why are you staying with him? It can't be easy, and it's certainly not because you're in love with him, and if you know you're allowed to leave...."
"Superficial," mused Charlene, looking down at the drink in her hand. "No depth. Shy bouquet."
"Charlene." Tracey tipped her head at her own bottle, which was bright pink. "These are wine coolers. You're trying to do a full-fledged tasting on the alcoholic equivalent of Kool-Aid."
The other woman blushed. "Sorry."
"You don't have to talk about it if you don't—"
"I do." Charlene grimaced. "It's just—I can't answer it properly without explaining about my family. Our family, Stephen's and mine. The Col-berts," she added, spitting out the hard T. "Have I even mentioned them to you before?"
Tracey shook her head. "You mostly talk about things that happened in Europe."
"When I was across an ocean from my relatives? That's not a coincidence."
"I always figured it was because Europe was more interesting."
"Oh, we're interesting," said Charlene with a dry laugh. "They could do a whole season of Jerry Springer on us alone. We are damaged, damaged people. And we pass that damage around like a Christmas fruitcake." She took a decidedly ungraceful gulp of her mango wine cooler. "Give me a few minutes? I'm going to need to be lightly drunk before I start."
Stephen explained all about anagrams to Nate over the picnic table, while George watched the clouds in fascination and Jon encouraged Maggie to appreciate the value of strained beets. Nate made an exceptional audience, Stephen thought, except for the part when he got distracted putting carrot sticks up his nose.
While the adults were cleaning up after the meal and Nate and Maggie were off making messes in the sandbox, Jon remarked, "You know he doesn't even have the order of the alphabet down yet, right?"
"He shouldn't need to," asserted Stephen, shoveling bread crusts into the trash bag. "Who does the alphabet think it is, telling him what order it should go in? If he wants to put Q before M, that's his right as an American."
Jon put up a fist to cover his giggling. "I guess that's one way to look at it," he admitted.
"Maybe it would help if I wrote them down," suggested Stephen, grabbing his wallet. "I think I still have some notes in here...."
He tugged out the anagram masterlist, sending a few other scraps of paper spilling out onto the (cleaned, thankfully) end of the table. A losing Take 5 ticket, a dollar bill with "TCR Comedy Central 11:30 PM" inked over the serial number, an old photo....
Stephen did a double-take as the photo caught his eye. The face was instantly recognizable in spite of its babyish roundness, with Maggie's ears framing a tiny smile and a nose already unmistakable at five years old.
"Oh, wow, where'd you get that?" broke in Jon, leaning over his shoulder.
"It isn't mine," said Stephen automatically. "I don't know how it got there."
"Uh-huh." Jon picked up the photo, looked it over appraisingly. "Hm. This one isn't bad. You didn't steal it from my mother, did you?"
Stephen gave him a friendly elbow to the gut. "I just told you, I didn't put it there."
"Stephen, come on. I'm not upset or anything. You don't have to be in denial about this."
"I'm not in denial!"
Jon raised his eyebrows.
Huffing in frustration, Stephen snatched the photo, stuffed it back in his wallet along with the money, and grabbed a couple of empty soda cans to stomp on.
"You have to understand," said Charlene, just lightheaded enough that she was enunciating with painstaking clarity, "when Stephen and I were kids, we were best friends. I mean, we needed cootie shots to get within ten feet of each other, but we were best friends anyway."
"I always imagined him being the kind of kid who couldn't share his toys," remarked Tracey.
"Well, sort of. You have to understand, though—our extended family is huge. He's the youngest of eleven; I'm one of eight; our fathers are brothers, they're ten years apart, there's maybe three aunts in between. You learned to get grabby if you wanted anything at all."
"The crowding wasn't the only problem, either. All our families were screwed up in their own individual ways. My parents, for instance—they're too Catholic to divorce, so they've spent most of their marriage hating each other. Half the time I went looking for a place to get away from their fights, I ended up playing with Stephen."
She toyed with her fork, nails clicking against the metal.
"I don't know why the two of us hit it off," she mused. "Maybe it was just luck. Or maybe we had some kind of kiddie gaydar going on: telling us to look out for each other, because none of the adults around were going to. We had a cousin who came out when I was still in elementary school, and he ended up disowned. Nobody talked about him after, either. Like he'd just been erased."
Tracey shuddered. "God, Charlene. That's awful."
"It hit Stephen hardest," said Charlene softly. "That, and all rest of the crazy anti-gay stuff we got spoon-fed. It wasn't until high school that things got strained between us, and it was because half the time he was insisting that we ought to do the proper thing and start dating."
"All this while I was still trying to convince myself I was just being a good chaste Catholic girl. And he wasn't asking me to be a beard for his own safety, either. He was serious. Or at least, he had convinced himself he was."
"We were a couple of angry, confused, hormonal, terrified teenagers," said Charlene distantly. "The more pressure he was under, the more possessive and clingy he got. The harder he clung, the more stressed I got, the more I just wanted to turn and run. And the more I pulled away...you get the picture."
She paused to take another drink; Tracey waited, perfectly attentive.
"I'm not saying he was right," she insisted at last. "But what happened back then...the lurking, the phone calls, all the refusing to take no for an answer...it came out of what he was going through at the time. What we were both going through. It's only a small part of our history. And it wouldn't happen again."
"Are you sure?" blurted Tracey.
At last Charlene's eyes genuinely brightened. "Have you seen the way he looks at George? The total unabashed ends-of-the-earth-and-back adoration? There's no way he's ever going to mix that feeling up with anything else."
"You better appreciate this," declared Stephen, holding George up until they were nose-to-nose. "That was the bravest thing I've ever done, and all because I didn't want you to be smelly."
George drooled with a distinct lack of appreciation.
Muttering about ungrateful one-month-olds, Stephen wiped the baby's mouth before carrying him over to the bench from which Jon was keeping an eye on the playground. "Can you believe they don't have changing tables in the men's room?" he huffed.
Jon raised his eyebrows. "What, you never noticed before?"
"No! It's discrimination against men, is what it is. Where's the ACLU when you really need them?"
"Probably working on that whole seventy-cents-to-the-dollar problem," said Jon with an indulgent smile, before sobering. "Stephen? Can I ask you something?"
"You liberals and your questions," muttered Stephen, then winced when he caught the look in Jon's eyes. "But go ahead."
"You really don't remember getting a photo of me anywhere?"
Stephen bounced George gently on his knee. "I told you, Jon. I didn't do it."
"And, uh, how about all those times you've called me asking for help, and then said the same thing? Like when you tricked me into coming over so you could demand an apology to Geraldo, or—"
"Don't be silly, Jon," interrupted Stephen. "I've never—" Breaking off, he lowered his voice. "Before this week, I've never called you for help."
A whisper at the back of his mind (don't listen to him don't let him scare you), and he almost missed what Jon said next: "Stephen, are you still having memory problems? Not just for the, uh, the stuff you used to do, but more recently?"
Something hidden deep in Stephen stirred, a vague yearning that threatened to coalesce, expand, and rip him apart if he didn't ease the pressure. Also, his legs were tingling.
"Jon," he said, voice hardly cracking at all, "I need to take George on the slide now."
"I'm so embarrassed," gasped Tracey, though it sounded decidedly less sincere when she couldn't stop giggling. "Never been thrown out of a place before."
"'S not your fault," insisted Charlene, now down to a respectable slur. "Any 'stablishment worth its salt, you get a good rhythm going, th' crowd'll join in."
"And if most of the crowd didn't go to CCD?"
"Pfffft. Ev'ryone's got some childhood song. Once got th' whole rest of th' bar to burst into a chorus from Hebrew school. Couldn't understand a word of it. 'Sides, didn't you ever sing songs from musicals in chapel?"
Tracey clapped her hands, still laughing. "Better! We had Peter, Paul & Mary in our hymnals! Jon never believes me when I say so!"
"How 'bout this one?" interjected Charlene. "The King of Glory comes, the nation rejoices..."
"...Open the gates before him, lift up your voices!" joined in Tracey, and together they plunged through the whole song, walking hand in hand down the street in the sunset light.
Jon pushed Nate and Maggie on side-by-side swings, keeping an eye on the sun as it sank lower in the sky. The gentle creaking of the swingset, along with the shrieks and giggles of other kids still running around the park this late, was just rhythmic enough that it gave his mind plenty of space to run rampant with worries.
Stephen was almost certainly forgetting things.
On the one hand, it softened the edge of his multitude of his blatant denials if they were out of genuine amnesia, rather than open mistrust of Jon. But that was cold comfort if Stephen's memory was cutting out on a regular basis. And for such minor things! Was he really so afraid to show Jon weakness that he couldn't let himself know when he did it?
And did he remember the sex?
Jon roughly filed the thought away to bring up with the doctor. Stephen was in full-on avoidance mode at the moment, which was only fair; better to give any potential triggers a wide berth than to risk a breakdown in a public park.
When the kids insisted on coming back to the ground, Jon stopped their swings with a gentle reminder that it would be time to go soon, suffered through a couple of theatrical awwws, and watched them scurry off (Nate running, Maggie toddling) before retreating to the bench where their picnic things were piled.
Stephen had fallen asleep in the grass, George's carrier plonked down beside him.
Smiling at the picture the two made together, Jon reached for Stephen's glasses, which were pressing red marks into the bridge of his nose, and slid them off—
With a sudden cry Stephen twisted away, drawing his knees to his chest and throwing up his arms like a makeshift shield.
Jon jumped back, nearly dropping the glasses. "Stephen, it's me!"
Stephen's eyes snapped open, and for an instant they stared wildly at something in the distance.
Then he caught sight of Jon, and sprawled back out with an indignant sulk. "Of course it's you, Jon. Who else would it be?"
Stephen was still sulking as the end credits rolled.
It wasn't that he objected to movie nights on principle. He didn't even mind someone else choosing the movie—just so long as they chose the right movie. And on this point, Tracey had failed miserably.
"Come on, Stephen," insisted Charlene, who had spent the whole thing being much gigglier than he remembered her, "you laughed at some of that."
"Sometimes it was funny," admitted Stephen grudgingly. "But it was still terrible."
"Oh, come on," protested Tracey, who had spent the whole thing being completely unfazed by the fact that Stephen glared daggers at her whenever he remembered. "How so?"
"Where to start?" exclaimed Stephen. "Trillian shouldn't need saving. She saved the whole universe on her own once! And Arthur's one true love is Fenchurch, anyway. And—and Zaphod! He's not supposed to be an idiot! Sure, his ego is so big that it shows up on a map of the universe, but that doesn't mean he's not clever. Probably even cleverer than he seems, because he had to shut down parts of his brains before they would let him run for President in the first place!"
"Uh, wow," said Jon, who had spent the whole thing watching Nate and Maggie fall adorably asleep on either side of him. "I think I missed that scene."
"It wasn't in the movie, Jon."
"Oh." Jon blinked. "Then, uh, where...?"
Stephen huffed a long-suffering sigh. "The books. That's right! I've read the books. I'm a geek. You got me!"
"Uh, Stephen? That's not exactly a big secret. I mean, you have played with Lord of the Rings toys on camera."
"Only after Rick Santorum referred to the Eye of Sauron on the floor of Congress. It can't be too far out of the mainstream if he knows about it."
"That's a good point," admitted Jon, one finger idly twirling through Maggie's curls. "But how much worse can you be?"
"Aragorn, the son of Arathorn, was known as Elessar, and also called Estel, which means 'hope' in Elvish; the men of Bree called him Strider, and when he was younger and he lived in Gondor he was called Thorongil, because he had to have an assumed name, he couldn't really—you have no idea who I'm talking about."
"Sure we do," cut in Tracey. "Viggo Mortenson, right?"
Stephen groaned. "Why do I bother?"
The prescription bottle lay stuffed in a drawer under the bathroom sink, and Stephen lay on his back next to a lightly snoring Jon. Warm though the night was, he had the sheets tucked up around his neck.
"I don't need them, anyway," he said firmly. "I can do this. I got through today without falling apart, didn't I?"
Only because you wouldn't talk about anything more important than Zaphod Beeblebrox.
"Shake it off, Col-bert," hissed Stephen. "Zaphod is plenty important. Besides, you'll go back to the doctor tomorrow, and Jon will be there, and you'll be able to talk until you turn blue, and everything will be fine. Now man up and get some rest."
He spent the next fifteen minutes tossing, turning, aching, and utterly failing to fall asleep.
At last he crawled out of bed, retrieved the crumpled photo from his wallet, and gently smoothed out its creases before tucking it under his pillow.