When Jeff got back to the house it still wasn't even 11. There were dishes he could clean, and he was hungry for some real food, but he decided to wait until noon at least before he started clanging around in the kitchen.
Even before he'd gotten the caretaker gig, perhaps partly as penance for not getting it in the first place, it had been Jeff's intention to re-read the Stuart canon this summer. There was no time like the present.
He carefully crossed the living room and grabbed an edition of Grave from the bookshelves. While the title was the same, the book was in the wrong language, so he exchanged it for a U.K. edition, featuring a pictures of an open grave with a blank headstone above it. He took it out onto the back deck, sat at the picnic table, and put his feet up on the porch railing.
In no time at all he was wandering the foggy back streets of an alternative London, as Alistar Wilcox searched for a body that had been robbed from a grave. A body that might not be as dead as everyone expected. Jeff was instantly transported to the bedroom where he slept when he was fifteen, where he had sat up most of the night, taking the same journeys through the same streets of London. The book functioned as a instantaneous connection to his past, to a time when his largest concern was passing his Biology tests and whether Katrina Sheridan would ever acknowledge that he was alive.
Cemetery had been the book that started Jeff's love affair with Stuart and his creations, but it was Grave that cemented them. He had finished the book, white-knuckling it to the end and gone to sleep as the sun was coming up. The next morning he had written his first short story. He had done some small creative writing assignments in school, but his short story, Bodies, was the first time he'd ever sat down with a story to tell. It was a complete rip off, of course, but imitation was the sincerest form of whatever, then he was a flatterer indeed.
Jeff's stomach was getting more insistent and he was about to put the book down and start preparing breakfast, regardless of the time, when his phone rang. It was his personal ring, the ring tone simply Peter Griffin of the Family Guy's laugh, looped over and over, like an obnoxious, nasal machine gun: 'eh eh eh eh eh eh...'
“Sweetheart, it's your mother. I'm pretty sure you were supposed to call me yesterday and tell me how your job search is going.”
“Oh, yeah, I—“ Jeff began to laugh.
“What's so funny.”
“Mom, you'll never believe it. Are you sitting down?”
Once Jeff got the salient facts out, he had to pull the phone away from his ear as his mother screamed in excitement. Then he had to explain the specifics about the position, even though he had described them very clearly to her six months ago when he had thrown his hat in the ring for the position in the first place.
“So that Mac guy quit?”
“They told me he did, but Vic said the guy just packed his shit up and vanished.”
“I'll be damned.”
“Honey, you ride this pony till the legs fall off, okay?”
“You know it, Ma.”
“I'm very proud of you.”
“I didn't really do anything yet.”
“You will, honey, I know it. Go get 'em.”
Jeff smiled. His mother had been excited about his graduating from college, of course, but that had been eclipsed by the notions of what would come after, and the massive debt they would both be facing. This was the first time in a long time he could remember her being excited without any hesitation. It felt good.
Since he still had his phone out, he called up Malcolm and told him what was going on. He told him briefly about The Best Year, knowing that his friend would appreciate the idea of reading such a book, even if he wouldn't appreciate the book itself. He reassured his friend that he would soon ask about having him over to meet the author and they left it at that.
Jeff went inside and cleaned the detritus of the author's late night writing session. There was a plate and a bowl, two glasses, and an empty bottle of Woodford. Then he started getting ready for breakfast. He brought a package of sausage out of the fridge, put a frying pan on the stove, and rummaged around until he found the seasoning packet he'd bought the day before. He preheated the oven to 350.
Browning meat was about the extent of his cooking expertise, but the instructions for sausage gravy on the back of the packet didn't seem much more complicated than that, so he'd planned on giving it a shot.
The timing turned out to be the biggest pain in the ass. He put the biscuits in the oven after the sausage was brown and the gravy was done well before the biscuits were. Otherwise, the gravy looked, well, like gravy, and the biscuits smelled spectacular, as though he had put much more effort into them than he had.
Surprisingly, by the time he was ready to serve, Victor was still asleep, his head on his chest, snoring in his small animal way. Jeff wasn't sure if he should wake him, after all, the man could have been writing until 8 a.m., but Jeff was so proud of his cooking that he took the risk. He loaded a plate with two split biscuits and covered them with the meaty goo. He poured Vic a glass of orange juice and took them out to the living room. He placed them on the coffee table with a fork and a napkin and looked at the man.
His eyes were squeezed closed, as if he were concentrating. One hand was splayed out like a dead spider beside him on a cushion, the other hand lay on his thighs, fingers twitching. Jeff wondered if it were possible the man were writing in his sleep.
“Hey, Vic,” he said.
Immediately, the author's eyes snapped open and Jeff was pinned in their gaze. Jeff wasn't even sure if the man was awake for a moment, it was as if he had been lying in wait.
“What time is it?”
“Uh, about noon.”
“Mm-hmm.” Vic continued to stare at him, up through his brows, for a moment longer. Then he let out a deep breath and rounded his shoulders, stretching himself up on the couch. He groaned, stretched his shoulders, and when his eyes opened again, he looked a lot more conscious. “That smells really good, buddy, what is it”
“Biscuits and gravy.”
“Seriously? That's amazing. Keep it up, kid.”
He ate as he had the night before, as if he had been on a temporary hunger strike. The food was still too hot, but Stuart didn't seem to pay any attention to it, lowering his mouth to the edge of the plate and scooping it in. He rolled his eyes early on and gave Jeff an appreciative grunt and nod, which he took as a good sign.
Jeff went back into the kitchen and started to eat his own breakfast, flipping through Grave. A minute later, Stuart entered the kitchen, his plate shining and clean, his glass empty.
“Is there any more?”
Jeff took his plate and served another biscuit with another cup of gravy over it, as Stuart looked on lustfully.
“It's really good, man, seriously.” Stuart proceeded to inhale another biscuit. “I can't think of the last fucking time I woke up to breakfast.”
“How late were you up?”
“I dunno, actually. I got five chapters, I think, so late, I'm sure.” He swallowed another bite and planted his hands in his low back, arching it. He moaned appreciatively. “I'm already antsy to get back to it, to tell you the truth, so I'll probably edit what I've got now and take a break this afternoon. And you've gotta go buy yourself something to drink, remember?”
“Let you practice on that bitch mother driveway, some too.”