I’m in my hotel room, my backpack on the floor (I don’t have a suitcase, shouldn’t be going to anything like a conference in the first place), lying on the bed, staring at the ceiling, thinking that I need to change my life, big change, quit taking temp jobs that result in actual jobs when what I really want to do is the same thing Tracy and Ever, Baum and Karen, Morris, Rodney, and Connie want to do; I want to live and breathe the theater and make just enough money so I can keep living it without entirely losing my mind. I’m thinking of how to change who I am, the core of who I am, what it takes to reinvent yourself, how much, how little, exactly these thoughts, as Tracy pulls the car into Bookman’s General parking lot. Morris and Rodney goofed around in the back seat the whole way over, Morris repeatedly calling Tracy “driver” seeing as there’s nobody in the passenger seat. Only, to Tracy, Rodney doesn’t seem to be entirely committed to the goofing like Morris is. Rodney is naturally more practical than his boyfriend and becomes quite serious when the time calls for it. Tracy doesn’t know for sure that the time is calling for it but the sense she gets from Rodney, his eyes not quite laughing like Morris’s are in the rearview mirror, isn’t a fun one.
“This place looks amazing,” Morris says. He practically kicks open the back door, his blond hair tousled now, his blue suit coat and pants out of place in this Podunk gravel lot. Or maybe he looks like a man out of the Old West. No tie. No hat, either, but like someone who just rolled up to a place he might not belong but does not yet know that.
“You okay?” Tracy asks Rodney, the two still in the car. It feels like they have this one second together. This journey away from the farmhouse. Once they get what they want from inside, they’ll go back.
Why does this worry her?
Through the glass, Morris cocks a thumb toward the store and laughs.
Wouldja look at this place?
“It’s a little much,” Rodney says.
She knows what he’s talking about and she knows he know she knows.
A beat of silence. Morris frowns, the gray and green painted general store flanked by seemingly endless fields of crops on either side.
Morris might make a movie star one day, Tracy thinks. It’s a small glow of comfort, a regular thought to have.
She needed that.
They both exit the car just as Morris flails his arms dramatically, suggesting he’s had to wait all day. But the second they’re out, Morris hurries inside, acting, it seems, as if the end of the world is coming, and whatever alcohol remains in this one general store in the middle of Michigan is the last on Earth.
This leaves Tracy and Rodney alone still, on the walk up.
“It’s weird,” Rodney says. “Have you ever heard of people staging an intervention because they’re friend is doing… too good?”
They hold a glance, as if considering. Then they both bust out laughing. Tracy is glad she drove to the store and glad to have Rodney here, right now. Together, they have cracked how ridiculous it is what she’s feeling. They have done what friends do: shown each other how silly they’re acting.
“We must hurry,” Rodney says, striking a sudden pose. “Before Morris does something in this general store to get us arrested.”
He salutes. Tracy does the same.
Rodney’s not that far off, it seems, as they find Morris holding four bottles of wine in his arms, one of them precariously close to falling.
“I’ll take that,” Tracy says. She does.
“You worry too much,” Morris says. “I would never, literally never, drop a bottle of wine.”
“Except you did once,” Rodney says. “At a wedding.”
“Only when it’s funny, Rodney,” Morris says. “Only when it’s funny.”
Tracy nods to the guy behind the counter. It’s impossible to see him without comparing his life to her own. It’s so entirely different out here than the life she is living. The guy can’t be much younger than she is, but with his blue apron and messy brown hair he’s got something childish to him. He smiles at her and she can’t help but wonder how few new people he sees in this store. It must be the same faces all day for him, the locals, the people who live in the farmhouses they passed on the drive from Oliver’s. Tracy wonders if there’s a girl or a guy he’s hot for who only comes in once a year, a relative of a local. Maybe every Fourth of July this counter-guy combs that messy brown hair, cleans his apron, stands up a little straighter. As Tracy walks the aisle toward the snacks, as Morris and Rodney make jokes behind her, both acting the roles of twin winos (they’re doing what we call Spotlight, when you find yourself writing and performing a character on the spot), she suddenly envies the counter-guy. At least he knows everyone by heart, everyone who comes into this place, all the reliable men and women. By the time Tracy reaches the chip rack, she’s realized that that’s the word after all.
You should be able to rely on your friends to be who they are, right? You should be able to count on them to be either snarky or mindful, brave or shy. For fuck’s sake, it’s borderline traumatic watching a friend change so entirely as Oliver has. If you can’t rely on your friends to be your friends… why have friends at all?
Glass crashes behind her.
Tracy spins quick to see Morris and Rodney looking down at a shattered bottle of red wine, the contents spreading fast.
“I can’t believe it,” Morris says. He looks to the counter-guy. Then to Rodney.
Then he laughs. He places a hand on his chest and he laughs so hard that Tracy can’t help but laugh, too.
You see? Morris is reliable. Only Morris would say he would never drop a bottle of wine, then drop it. Then show no sign of embarrassment for having done so.
This is why we love Morris.
Rodney, however, is turning to the counter, saying don’t worry, we’ll clean it up, don’t worry, seriously, we’re so sorry, we’ll pay for two of the ones we broke, don’t mind us, don’t mind Morris, he’s a beast.
But the counter-guy takes it good-naturedly. He steps out with rags in one hand and a broom in the other. He hands Rodney the rags and begins sweeping up the pieces.
“Did you see that, Tracy?” Morris calls. The whole scene is framed by the end of the aisle Tracy stands in so that it looks like the three players are on a stage. “It leapt clean out of my hands!”
She shakes her head no but smiles. It’s kinda nice, truth be told, friends doing familiar things. Even if that means making a mess.
“I can’t take you guys anywhere,” she says. “Or I shouldn’t anyway. I should know better.”
“What did I do?” Rodney says, feigning horror. “I hardly know this guy.”
“Are you three staying at the Jensen place?” the counter-guy suddenly asks.
“No,” Tracy says. “We’re visiting our friend Oliver.”
“Really?” The guy makes a face. “Carpenter’s Farm?”
“Why does that surprise you?” Tracy asks.
But she knows the answer. They don’t look like friends of Oliver’s. They don’t dress like Oliver does now. They don’t talk like Oliver does now.
“You know the place?” Rodney asks.
The man is a little shy. He reddens a bit as he speaks, keeps his eyes on the shards and red liquid at his shoes.
“I know every place around here. I mean… it’s not that big a town.”
“Do you know Oliver?” Tracy asks. Because she wants to know. She wants to know suddenly very badly what he thinks of Oliver.
The counter guy nods a yes. “I knew his grandfather better, but I’ve met him. He comes in here.”
Rodney has most the wine sponged up into the rags. Morris helps with what remains.
“He’s a friend of ours from New York,” Tracy says.
The guy looks surprised.
“Is that where he’s from?”
“That’s where we met him,” Tracy says.
He nods. Tracy knows what he’s going to say next.
“I’ve always wanted to go there. It’s just so… big. I don’t know how you can know anybody in a place like that.”
“It’s not as hard as you’d think,” Rodney says. “You make friends.”
“Did you guys see the house yet?”
“Yes,” Tracy says. “We stopped there before we came here. Have you been?”
Morris and Rodney are looking at the guy now, the three big city friends waiting for an answer together.
“I touched the side of it once,” he says.
There’s a beat of weird silence before Rodney and Morris break out into laughter.
“What does that even mean?” Morris asks.
“Why’d you do that… ,” Tracy looks to his nametag, “Matt?”
He really reddens now.
“Around here, you know, as kids, Carpenter’s Farm was the place you had to run up to and… and touch. You know…”
“No,” Morris says. “We do not know. Explain?”
“A local legend?” Tracy asks. “Is that what you mean?”
“Like the house is haunted, Matt?”
“Well… I guess.”
“Is it?” Tracy asks.
The guy makes a face, an expression Tracy can’t quite place. Is it yes or no?
“Oh, I don’t know about haunted,” Matt says. “Just, you’d pull your truck up to the end of the drive and you had to run to the house and touch it and run back. Just… a dare. I don’t know. Not haunted but… freaky I guess.”
“Freaky how?” Rodney asks.
“I don’t… I don’t know.”
“No story attached to the house?” Tracy asks.
“Tracy is a ghost hunter,” Morris says. But the joke falls flat.
“No,” Matt says. “No real story I know of. I didn’t mean to freak you out.”
Tracy smiles. Kind of.
“You didn’t. But really? No stories at all?”
Matt looks to each of their faces. Is he being quiet about something? Or does he feel intimidated by the big city trio who are obviously looking for an answer?
“None,” Matt says. “Not that I know of.”
“Cool,” Tracy says. “We’ll pay now.”
But she doesn’t feel cool. Not only because Matt just told them the farmhouse they’re staying at tonight has long creeped out the locals, but because Morris, playful enigmatic Morris, ever aloof Morris, seemed just as desirous of that answer as she was.
On the way back to the car, as I’m sitting on a hotel bed looking over a conference itinerary that feels as alien to me as success, Tracy imagines kids touching the side of Oliver’s new home, Rodney thinks of glass breaking, glass like the jar he saw in Oliver’s pantry, and Morris holds the bottles they bought a little tighter to his chest than he usually does.