Infected Universe story – Anhedonia

I might be doing more of these, as I had a mad urge to wrap up some things, possibly things that don’t need wrapping up. But you know how authors are. Minor spoilers for Infected: Throwaways, if you haven’t read that yet, and CW – talk of abuse, eating disorders and drug use.

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Anhedonia

A gay nightclub wasn’t the most obvious choice for a wake. And yet, it did a surprising amount of side business in that area.

There had been talk about doing it at another gay club, Skylight, except it would definitely object to such a thing inside its walls. Also, Chai was certain they were too old, too poor, and too ethnic for that crowd.

So here they were at Panic instead, mourning the guy you figured would outlive the rest of them – Trix. Macrobiotic yoga instructor, health nut, had a heart attack and died while jogging around Greenlake. He wasn’t even forty yet, which made it all seem so weird.

Unless you were guys who used to work at the same escort agency that he did. And knew all his secrets.

They were all seated around a table at the back – him, Holden, Bear, Hotshot, E. The last time they’d all been together in the same room was when Chai had his moving party, and everybody now looked at Holden with a cautious wariness. They didn’t even know about his vigilante status, and Chai had no idea if they knew he was the guy who survived getting jumped by those guys in the Jungle. The bruises had finally faded, although Holden now had a couple of new scars for his trouble.

Of course, Chai was still trying to unpack all his own shit, and he didn’t mean from the moving in party. First, Holden was a vigilante – was he okay with that? He still wasn’t sure. Two, some strangers tried to murder him. Strange cops. Clearly they didn’t succeed, but that led to the weird Roan shit, and how was he supposed to cope with that? It felt like a lot – vigilantism, being saved from murder by a lion man who, FYI, wasn’t supposed to exist. He felt like he had PTSD, and he couldn’t even tell his therapist too much about any of this, because … wasn’t he an accessory after the fact, or some legal term they used on Law and Order that he paid no attention to at all? He wasn’t sure he knew himself anymore. Considering he was still wrestling with post-accident dysphoria, this felt like way too much for him to handle. But he was alive, which was more than Trix could say.

Poor Trix. His real name was Sam Van Camp, and like most people who came up from the streets, his life had been pretty fucked up. He didn’t go into lots of detail about it, but through the years a narrative had been stitched together. He’d had a physically and sexually abusive step-father, and an alcoholic mother, and a biological dad he never knew, and didn’t care to know. His mother had a type, and it wasn’t a good one. They lived somewhere in the Southwest – Arizona, New Mexico, some place like that. Chai wondered if they knew he was dead, and if they cared.

Trix had done his best to keep it a secret, but it was hard keeping secrets at an escort agency, and everyone knew Trix struggled with an eating disorder. He was anorexic, and once joked that he couldn’t be bulimic because he hated throwing up. He was hospitalized once after a laxative binge, which apparently had dehydrated the fuck out of him, and once tried coke as a weight loss method, only to end up hospitalized again after having what he classified as a “minor” psychotic break. When Chai found out Trix was now a yoga instructor big into macrobiotics, he held out some hope that Trix was trying to be better to himself, and this wasn’t somehow a more acceptable version of his eating disorder, especially when he showed up to the moving party looking positively emaciated. But seeing the types of food he was eating, Chai could see how that kept the pounds off.

“That shit can damage your heart,” Bear said, turning his glass of vodka and tonic on the table. It was a nervous gesture, keeping that glass moving in a circle.

“Which,” Hotshot asked. “The coke or the anorexia?”

“Both. I mean, he must have seen doctors, right? No one checked his heart or caught it?”

“We’re too poor for the good health insurance,” Holden said. He was keeping his usual sass toned down tonight, which was probably for the best. The guys now eyed him like he was a half-asleep honey badger who could wake up and lunge at them at any time. Unfair, really. They’d just seen Holden at a low moment.

Hotshot shrugged. “I dunno. I hear some yoga instructors do pretty well for themselves.”

The music Panic was currently playing was somber. Chai was fairly certain it was Radiohead. They would have played Trix’s favorites, but he had traded Abba and house music for weird New Age-y stuff with pan pipes, and the general consensus was no one could stand to listen to the music he liked. Chai figured Trix wouldn’t care.

Holden suddenly sat up straighter. “Holy shit.”

Chai did his best to follow his gaze, but it took him several seconds to find what Holden had noticed so easily. It was Colt, a/k/a Austin Arndt, lifestyle brand and high end decorator guru for wealthy suburban Seattle-ites. Currently dressed down in designer jeans and a plain t-shirt hidden beneath a dark jacket, most of his face obscured beneath a stocking cap and a navy scarf. But for all his attempts to hide, he was still obviously him, although Chai couldn’t put his finger on the why of it.

He looked around Panic until he spotted them, and started making his way towards them. If anyone else recognized him, it wasn’t obvious.

“Holy fuck,” E exclaimed. “I didn’t know he came anywhere like this anymore.”

“Maybe Trix was worth the exception,” Holden said.

Trix and Colt were briefly a thing. They had one of those intense relationships that Chai thought of as one of those sex worker things. Sometimes you bonded so powerfully with another in your profession, things could get crazy fast, and Trix and Colt were like that. Colt had his club drugs, and Trix had his eating disorders, and while the twain briefly met up in Trix’s coke phase, it was also a doomed relationship that fell apart spectacularly. Holden, in one of his weirdly philosophical moods, said, “They’re both needy people. They can’t feed off each other, so they consume the husk of each other until they can’t take the taste of dust anymore.” It took Chai an embarrassing amount of time to get what Holden was saying, but eventually he did. And he was right, which was somehow more infuriating.

Colt stood at their table, and even though there was an empty chair, he didn’t immediately sit down. “Can I join you?” he asked, his voice muffled by scarf.

Holden briefly smirked, as if he thought of a cutting thing to say, but the look quickly faded, as he thought better of it. A wake probably wasn’t the time for the sass monster. “Sure.”

Colt pulled out the chair and sat down, and only then did he unwrap the scarf, and take the cap off his head, revealing a five hundred dollar haircut, dyed a very tasteful blondish-brown. When Chai first met him, he had pink hair, a nose ring, and a shaggy do he did himself in the bathroom at a rave. Colt still looked younger than he was, though, and there was so denying he seemed sad.

E grimaced, and had clearly made the decision to be nice. Colt hadn’t said boo to any of them for years, not after he left the agency and dropped out of sex work. “Long time no see.”

Colt glanced up. In the grim gel light, his eyes looked bruised. “You must not watch daytime TV then.”

“Oh, the stuff’s on YouTube too,” Holden said, and Chai had to cover his mouth so Colt couldn’t see him trying to swallow back a laugh. Colt did seem ridiculous in those morning TV segments, especially if you best knew him as the flighty good time boy, more concerned with getting high than worrying if your drapes were too long.

“You’ve done well,” Hotshot said, also trying to be nice. “I was just surprised you gave a shit about design. You never seemed like the type.”

Colt shrugged. “Once I got clean I had to do something. Seemed easy, and Ben seemed to like it.”

“Ben?” Chai asked.

“My husband,” Colt said, fiddling with the wedding ring on his finger.

“We’re in the marriage club too,” Bear said, as both he and Hotshot held up their hands, showing off matching rings.

Colt raised an eyebrow at that. “Wow, you guys are still together? Shit. I’m impressed. Being in a couple is hard.”

“It can be,” Hotshot agreed.

They then lapsed into a silence that wasn’t companionable or awkward, simply a nearly tangible representation of the gulfs that now existed between them all. They met as struggling kids, and now they were adults mostly edging up to the wrong side of thirty – an age most of them thought they’d never live to see – still trying to figure their shit out. At some point, it should have gotten easier, but it never did.

“How long you been clean?” Holden finally asked.

“Coming up on seven years now,” Colt said.

Bear gave him a friendly slap on the back that nearly sent Colt face first into the table. “Congrats. That ain’t easy.”

“No, it’s not,” Colt agreed. It seemed like he was going to say more, but he shifted his gaze out toward the rest of the club, and didn’t. No one else filled the silence, and Panic was now playing something that sounded ambient and morose. Chai realized he would be so happy for Thom Yorke right now.

Holden sat forward, either going to say something, leave the table, or both, when Colt blurted out, “I ran into him at Whole Foods three months ago.”

Now Holden stilled. “Trix?”

Colt nodded, finally looking at them all again. Chai wanted to attribute his spaciness to drugs, which was certainly par for the course with Colt, but it wasn’t that. It was much worse. There was something about wrestling with grief and not knowing how to deal with it that was harder than handling someone tripping on goofballs. There was no antidote for this. They couldn’t get his stomach pumped at the ER and have him be okay. It was a shadow that clung to you, and even when you thought you were done with it, it could come back again and ruin everything. “I thought he looked too skinny, but I didn’t want to say anything. So we just exchanged small talk bullshit, and the whole time, I was thinking I should say something, or invite him to dinner, but I didn’t. We just went our separate ways, and I forgot about him. Maybe I could have saved him.”

“Oh no,” Holden said, shaking his head. “Don’t do that. The only person that could have saved Trix was Trix. What happened to him was shitty – maybe he did it to himself over a series of years, or maybe it was just fucking entropy, but we’ve got no one to blame for this, and we shouldn’t look for one. This isn’t a pity party, Colt, it’s a wake for a guy who went out of his way to look like the whitest Jesus imaginable, and let’s keep it that way.”

There was a second of silence, and then Bear snorted and belatedly covered his mouth, making Hotshot laugh, and Chai couldn’t help but giggle too. “He did look like white Jesus,” E admitted, trying and failing to keep from laughing.

“You can’t tell me that wasn’t deliberate,” Holden said. “To go that hard for it was a choice.”

Now Colt, who had tears wetting down his eyelashes, was laughing too. “He always wanted his own cult.”

“Who didn’t?” Holden said, before taking a gulp of his gin. Chai had hoped that being back among the guys in such sad circumstances would bring out his old Fox instincts. Which were, in this case, bringing the guys together. He was always kind of their dad, even when he was younger than the guys he was chaperoning. It was all just a state of mind. Fox could find it easier than others.

Hotshot held his drink up, and everyone else followed suit. Colt even played along, holding an invisible glass. “To the best white Jesus we’ve ever known.”

“Here here,” Bear said, before knocking back the rest of his light beer. The rest of them had drinks too, save for Colt, who abandoned the pretense of his invisible glass.

E noticed. “You gotta have a drink, fancy man,” he said, pushing himself up to his feet. “Not alcohol, that’s cool, but I gotta get you something. Virgin margarita?”

“Do they have LaCroix?” Colt asked.

E shook his head. “Fuck you. This is a wake. You’re gonna have a sugary drink and you’re gonna like it.”

Colt briefly frowned, but didn’t protest. E left for the bar, and Colt wiped his eyes like everything was cool. It wasn’t, of course, but they could pretend for a little while longer.

Holden got to his feet. “Enough of this. I’m gonna ask the DJ to put on some My Chemical Romance.”

“Don’t you dare,” Bear said. Holden seemed to ignore him.

Chai knew this was simply the beginning. Maybe they had lived longer than they had expected, but they were all getting older, and Trix’s wake was the start of an avalanche. Tiny now, but gaining speed as time went on. There was a morbid part of him that kind of wondered which of them was next. E, still keeping up his hard partying ways even though it was really inadvisable? Was it Holden and his lethal vigilante lifestyle? Or was it himself, simply for being in Holden’s orbit?

That’s when he decided he didn’t want to know. Life was hard enough right now without speculation to add fuel to the fire. Chai decided he was just going to worry about getting through tonight. Tomorrow could take care of itself.

**

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