We are proud to present chapters 63 through 72 of Brandon’s novel, “The Difficult Ones.” We will continue to serialize his book in future issues. See our prior issues for the first 62 chapters.
WRITING NUMBER 63
“That girl is a convoluted mess!” Tom exclaimed to Dennis when he found him back at the office.
“I told you that the other day,” said Dennis.
“She stayed five minutes. After I walked all the way to Café Blu to meet her!”
“So you walked to Café Blu, big deal. That’s nothing to complain about. Café Blu’s four blocks.”
“I bought her another bouquet of carnations which she kept. That was ten dollars.”
“Well you’re the biggest sucker on earth then, aren’t you, when it comes to this woman.”
“How could she stay just five minutes with me?”
“Maybe it was too crowded for her. Did you think of that?”
“Crowded? At Café Blu at five-thirty, who would be there?”
“Who knows? That place is cramped.”
“It was empty, Dennis. What’s your point?”
“I’m trying to find some reason she left so fast. If it wasn’t crowded, the only reason I can come up with is she couldn’t stomach you.”
“You’re wrong about that, Dennis.”
“I’m glad to hear it.”
“You’re a hundred percent wrong about her not stomaching me.”
“I’m glad to hear you’re stomachable, seeing as I’m around you a lot. What’d Andrea leave for then?”
“I told you she left because her head’s a mess.”
“Right her head’s a mess. And I told you I knew she was a mess two days ago. So you’ve told me nothing and taken me exactly nowhere.”
End of writing number 63
WRITING NUMBER 64
As soon as Tom and Andrea had seated themselves at a table in the corner, Andrea said, “This is probably going to be a waste of your time.”
“Well I’m here,” Tom shrugged still pleasant, “and so far it’s pretty good.”
As the waitress came over to them, Tom waited for Andrea to say something, but when she kept her eyes lowered, Tom regretted his attempt at a compliment. He asked tentatively, “Would you like a drink?”
Andrea shook her head and said, “Not yet.”
“Give us a couple more minutes,” Tom said waving the waitress away.
Andrea shook her head a few more times without saying anything. “I shouldn’t have come here,” she said finally. She picked up the bouquet and stood up.
“Wait, have one drink with me,” Tom said quickly.
Andrea shook her head again no.
“You don’t have to worry about your mother’s buildings,” she said, “that’s all I wanted to tell you. But I don’t want my company to hurt the tenants.”
“If you’re worried about the tenants,” said Tom surprised, “if that’s what’s bothering you, it shouldn’t,” said Tom. “Sit down. Come on. My mother takes good care of her tenants.”
Andrea remained standing.
“I know she does,” she said. “I’m glad she does.”
“You said I was misleading your mother, remember?”
“Yeah, but, I apologized to you for that.”
“But you were right. I did mislead her.”
“OK,” said Tom slowly, “what happened?”
Andrea remained silent until Tom said, “What is it? What did you do?”
“I said things to your mother I didn’t mean.”
“And that’s what’s bothering you?”
“Yes. I don’t want to deceive your mother.”
“Sometimes I deceive people,” Tom said simply. “Sometimes I talk too fast. It’s business. It happens.”
“I don’t like this business!” said Andrea suddenly furious. She took a step away from the table and turned to the door.
“Wait, what’s so bad about it?”
“I don’t want to deceive people!” said Andrea turning back around to face Tom. She held his bouquet with both hands tight up against her chest. “I don’t want to deceive people like your mother! I’m sorry for what I said to her. When you talk to her, tell her I’m sorry!” she said and she walked as quickly as she could through the tables and left.
End of writing number 64
WRITING NUMBER 65
So little happened at this first meeting between Andrea and Tom and I so much expected something sexually significant would pass between them.
Andrea’s soft straight shiny hair and her breasts had attracted Tom’s gaze, there is that. Breasts can be powerful certainly to a man like Tom but how important can soft hair be? There are three billion Chinese and thousands of Eskimos with soft straight hair like Andrea’s and Tom has never been attracted to any of them. Andrea’s hair was light brown and she played with it a little with a mild red dye so that coloring might have made a difference. But it was the shine and the straightness much more than the color that had caught Tom’s eye.
Andrea’s voice and her hair and her breasts of course are recommending her to Tom right now. Nothing however is recommending Tom to Andrea.
I wanted Andrea to see in Tom something handsome and confident and liberating also, but she was too dissatisfied with herself and too upset about deceiving Bertie to notice much about Tom. Tom has given Andrea three bouquets of white carnations. These three bouquets might lead somewhere eventually if this narrative turns out to be nine-hundred pages long.
I need to accept yet again that Andrea will not do what I want her to do. I have tried with Andrea, I have tried very hard, but she refuses me and the way she refuses is by becoming false. It is as if Andrea says to me, “I know what I’m about and I will fall in love here if you force me to, Claude, you sorry hopeless ass, but I’m not anywhere near ready and my love will sound phony. If you can live with a love phony and forced, if that is the kind of love you want, Claude, I can set that love out for you very prettily so it almost seems authentic. Than you can wrap yourself up in it with Tom and me and see how good this phony love makes you feel.”
End of writing number 65
WRITING NUMBER 66
“Andrea hates businessmen,” Dennis explained to Tom. “I suspected so listening to her that night with your mother but now I’m sure of it. That’s the whole problem with her right there.”
“How can she hate businessmen?”
“I know, Tom. That’s what I’m saying to you, it’s lunatic.”
“But that’s ridiculous, Dennis. We’re Americans. Business is what a lot of us do.”
“Sure it is. She’s spoiled. Probably comes from privilege. That stuff about deceiving your mother is crap floating in her head. She just doesn’t give a shit about making a lot of money.”
“How do you figure that, Dennis?”
“You can’t say Andrea’s ignorant, Dennis, because she doesn’t want to make a lot of money.”
“Maybe not but she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.”
“She seemed to know what she was talking about to me.”
“I’m telling you she doesn’t know anything about life. All right? Life. That’s an unknown realm to her.”
“No, Dennis, you’re mistaken about her. She was convinced she did something wrong to herself.”
“I don’t know. But like she’d been corrupted.”
“She doesn’t know how to spell corrupted.”
“She sounded like she’d corrupted herself. That’s what she sounded like.”
“Listen to me please, Tom. I’ll be quick.”
“She needs to have that kind of mental shit kicked out of her head once or twice really hard with a boot so she’ll wise up to life’s demands! She thinks business and money corrupt people? Since when and where? A few errors some business people made over five centuries?
“Something horrible needs to happen to her, I’m absolutely certain about that now. Suffering’s the only way she’ll learn how wrong-headed she is. Some nights in a city hospital would be a start. A week of poverty-stricken medical care in some Medicaid hospital room, with three terminally ill patients moaning all night for morphine, some nights like that would do her good. Let her live through some agony like that lying next to her and she’ll come to see the importance of having a soft cushion of money to lie on.”
“Not maybe. When life bruises her enough, or scares her enough, she’ll run to money and bury herself in it no matter who has it.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“I’m telling you she’s a problem, Tommy. If I were you, I’d be careful if you’re thinking about seeing her again.”
“Right, I know you’re not but I’m saying if you do.”
“OK, if I do.”
“You were attracted to her, right?”
“What other way is there, Tom, frankly?”
“What are you asking me about then? You saw her.”
Dennis smiled. “So you were, right?”
“I knew it. You better watch out. You’re not as indifferent as you like to think. None of us are.”
“I’m all right.”
“Unless you want to get closer to her.”
“Right, I know you don’t but I’m saying let’s say you do. If you’re thinking about messing around with her, take her to some nice restaurant and drop a hundred dollar bill at her feet like by accident, like a hundred dollars whoops but it’s nothing, you don’t really give a shit. If she doesn’t stoop to pick that money up and smile and start acting sweeter towards you, she’s rebellious and irrational so tell her you need to use the bathroom and get out of that restaurant fast. That’s my advice.”
End of writing number 66
WRITING NUMBER 67
When Tom called his mother to find out what Andrea had said to deceive her, Bertie exclaimed, “Andrea didn’t deceive me at all!”
“She told me she did.”
“Well she did no such thing!”
“Andrea told you not to sell your buildings, didn’t she?”
“We talked about different,” Bertie began uncertainly but Tom interrupted her.
“Mother, did Andrea tell you not to sell your buildings? Yes or no?”
“Andrea said I should be careful about selling my buildings, yes she did say that to me.”
“Did she tell you not to sell them?”
“Well yes, I suppose she may have said that in a way.”
“Why would a real estate broker tell you not to sell your buildings? What’s she up to?”
“Oh, this is stupid, this is so stupid!”
“What do you mean stupid? What’s stupid about it?”
“You’re behaving ridiculously, Tom!”
“Don’t you see those buildings don’t mean anything?”
“Those buildings are worth a lot of money, Mother.”
“I don’t want to hear about money! Is that all you think about, you and Dennis?”
“Hold on, Mother.”
“I won’t! Andrea’s tormenting herself for no reason!”
“How do you know what she’s doing?”
“Tom,” said his mother coldly, “you listen to me now. If you can’t feel Andrea’s torment, you are seriously out of whack with yourself as a human being. I mean it, Tom. You call that poor woman and you find out what’s troubling her.”
“All right, I’ll call her. All right?”
“I’ll call her today.”
“Yes, you better, and you find out what’s troubling her or I will.”
End of writing number 67
WRITING NUMBER 68
But Tom did not call Andrea.
Instead, that afternoon Tom walked home slowly past Andrea’s office building thinking about what his mother had said to him and nursing the faint hope he would bump into Andrea on the sidewalk just by chance.
This slow foolish walk past Andrea’s office building brought no sign of Andrea of course, so the next afternoon Tom lingered in front of Andrea’s building just as the offices emptied.
After fifteen minutes of this charade, Tom felt so self-conscious he stormed away muttering he would stop waiting to meet Andrea and call her. Tom swore to himself he would call Andrea as he had promised his mother he would but he did not.
Instead, the next day Tom ate lunch at a coffee shop across from Andrea’s building and sat in the booth at the window staring out.
Even though Tom sat in that coffee shop’s booth and infuriated the manager by lingering while customers waited, and even though Tom again stood outside Andrea’s building from five until past six that afternoon, Tom never saw Andrea.
End of writing number 68
WRITING NUMBER 69
“Maybe she quit that job,” said Dennis sensibly.
“It was just a shitty temp job, right?”
“Well, yeah, no, it wasn’t.”
“What do you mean no?”
“She was becoming something more maybe.”
“What more? Andrea was just a held-over temp wasn’t she?”
“Well yeah, but if someone wants, they can work their way up, uh, and crap like that.”
“Oh, right, Andrea could work her way up-uh, right up-uh to the top uh the tree to pick the ripest banana. You gonna call her?”
“I thought you told your mother you would.”
“What if I did? I’m not calling Andrea on the telephone at her office.”
“I just can’t do it. I can’t pick up the phone.”
“You want me to call her?”
“I can call her if you want, no problem.”
“Thanks, Dennis, but no.”
“Good. Because I don’t want to call her. I was just saying I would.”
“Do you know what’s going on with yourself?”
“You only met this woman once.”
“So, uh, one time and you’re paralyzed? It’s uh….”
“It’s fucked up, Tommy.”
“This kind of stuff, Tom,” Dennis said shaking his head disapprovingly, “you know what it is.”
“It’s like a damn illness.”
“It’s more like a mental illness.”
“I know it is. But I’m all right.”
“Yeah. I’m gonna figure it out.”
“Yeah. I’m gonna figure it out. Definitely I am.”
“When? I’m just asking.”
“Soon. Very soon.”
“OK, ‘cause, you know, the sooner the better. There’s things we got to do. Some bazookas coming, pow pow.”
Tom looked dazed.
“You mean clients?”
“Yeah,” said Dennis.
“You mean work?”
“Yeah, you know, we stand to make a few bucks, it’s no big deal, just business. I can handle them if you want.”
“No, I’m fine. I can work.”
“Yeah. Same as always.”
End of writing number 69
WRITING NUMBER 70
Later that afternoon, when Tom finally called Andrea’s office and asked for her, Dan Albero took his call and told Tom that Andrea had not been to work for four days.
Andrea had called twice each day the first two days to say she was in bed sick but she had not called in yesterday nor today. Dan asked Tom if Andrea had mentioned anything to him about problems she had and Tom said no.
“Nothing about your mother’s buildings? No problem about them came up between you?”
“No, none at all,” Tom hedged.
“We are interested in those buildings, you know that, don’t you?”
“Yes, of course.”
“But Andrea’s not that experienced, so maybe something was said that upset her.”
“I understand, but we had no problem whatsoever.”
“I see,” said Dan dissatisfied.
“We had a pleasant chat,” Tom lied. “I don’t even remember the details,” Tom lied again. “I assumed we’d talk more the next day but Andrea never called me.”
“Did Andrea say she’d call you?”
“She implied she would,” Tom lied.
“About your mother’s buildings?”
“Yes, of course.”
“I called her twice but her machine picked up,” said Dan concerned.
“Would you mind if I called her?”
“You mean at her home?”
“Well, that’s her personal number,” he said doubtfully.
“How about if I leave Andrea a message you called?”
“OK, sure,” said Tom reluctantly.
“Or instead, look, why don’t we just give Andrea another twenty-four hours, what do you say about that? Your mother’s buildings aren’t going anywhere. Why don’t we wait one more day, how would that be?”
“That’s fine,” said Tom, “but listen, do me this favor. Let me give you my florist’s number. She’ll send Andrea a bouquet for me.”
“You want to send Andrea flowers?” asked Dan suspiciously. “I’d like to send her a get-well-soon bouquet, yes. A dozen white carnations.”
“Why don’t we see if Andrea calls me back,” said Dan putting Tom off.
“If Andrea doesn’t call in this afternoon, perhaps then I should give your florist a call.”
End of writing number 70
WRITING NUMBER 71
When Andrea again failed to call the office, Dan called Tom the next morning to tell him Andrea was still not to be found.
“All right, I’ll call your florist,” said Dan, “but what’s going on between you and Andrea? Straight up, what’s been going on?”
“What can I tell you? I’d like to cheer her up,” said Tom evasively.
“Cheer her up?” echoed Dan. “You’re telling me that’s all you’re doing? To cheer Andrea up, that’s what you want?”
“Yes, I would.”
“OK, fine, if that’s what it is. If that’s what these carnations are really for.”
“That’s what they’re really for,” said Tom flatly.
“All right, I got it,” said Dan snappish. “But let me remind you the first time you came here, you gave Andrea carnations and you told me you’d never met her.”
“I never had.”
“And you expect me to believe that?”
“Why wouldn’t you? It’s true.”
“Maybe. And maybe there’s some romance gone wrong and that’s why I can’t find Andrea. You’ve been lying to me and you’re not lying to me very well but I got it, I finally got it.”
End of writing number 71
WRITING NUMBER 72
“That Dan guy called you a liar?” asked Dennis amused.
“Yeah he did, a couple of times.”
“Did he? That’s something, man, that’s really good.”
“I guess Dan Albero’s not so dumb, is he, I mean as dumb as you thought.”
“I never said he was dumb, Dennis. I said because of the way he treated me, he was an asshole.”
“Right, and there’s this large difference in your mind between someone being dumb and someone being an asshole?”
“OK, but it seems to me Albero’s not such a dumb asshole since he caught on you were trying to get Andrea’s phone number out of him.”
“Maybe and maybe not, Dennis. I don’t know yet.”
“Yeah well you keep saying you don’t know and maybe not, but Albero knew you were lying to him and he kept you away from Andrea’s phone number, which you wanted, right?”
“He did keep you away from her phone number, didn’t he?”
“Yeah, he did.”
“So that’s not dumb and that’s not asshole. That’s paying attention.”
“Maybe it is and maybe it’s not, Dennis. But maybe the florist now has Andrea’s home address, kuh-fucking-peesh?”
“Well maybe she does, huh,” said Dennis thoughtfully.
“So maybe the florist has Andrea’s address, Dennis, maybe not her phone number, right, but her address. Maybe her phone number too. Not that I want it anymore, you know? What the fuck! What is the big god damn deal with this guy’s sacred privacy?”
“Right, I get you now.”
“This guy Albero, man, Dennis, think about him! He may not be dumb but he’s an asshole and he’s got no business interfering with me, not about sending flowers to Andrea if I want to.
“What am I supposed to do, stand in front of her office building like Andrea’s lost dog? I’m standing on the sidewalk waiting for Andrea three days and she’s not even coming to work? Try that as what looking ridiculous feels like.
“And what’s it to Albero anyway? What is he, her father? And even if he was.
“He tells me Andrea’s home phone is her personal number, like I don’t know that? What’s he think, she shares a pay phone on the corner with a car service? No, Andrea has her own phone in her own apartment, her own personal phone, yeah. Amazing huh?
“Trouble is if I call Andrea’s private and extremely personal phone number that she has in her own private apartment, the entire earth will burst into flames. And Andrea, who never harmed anyone and nurses sick birds back to life nights and weekends with an eyedropper, she’ll be killed because I called her at her home to ask how she was and tell her I’d like to see her sometime. Plus, I never liked this guy.”
End of writing number 72