Another thing that had not occurred to Jeff was to bring toiletries. He realized this as he opened the door that sat opposite the closet, which opened into a small bathroom. A glass-enclosed shower sat across from a toilet, with a sink in between. The soap on the corner of the sink made him realize that he hadn't brought any of his own, but it turned out not to be an issue.
Mac, anal retentive knob that he was, had left his Pantene 2-in-1 as well as shaving cream, toothpaste and a glasses case. Jeff could tell because he'd written his name on them like a 12-year-old going off to summer camp. Jeff smirked at the mental image of Mac's mother writing his name in the back of every pair of his tighty-whities as he went off to college.
There were razors and a toothbrush as well, and Jeff assumed they were Mac's also, although there were no labels on those. A fresh razor he would deign to use, but the toothbrush he dropped in the small blue trash can that stood next to the sink. In the cabinet beneath the sink were cleaning supplies, in addition to a rainbow assortment of shampoos, conditioners, body washes and soaps. Apparently most caretakers couldn't be bothered to take such things home with them. There was even a fresh toothbrush, still in its package. It was softer than Jeff would have liked, but free was free. Free toiletries had not been a benefit that Arthur Reed had listed when describing the caretaker position, but Jeff was pretty happy about it.
He was putting his boxers and the neatly folded balls of his socks into the top drawer on the dresser when the door to the laundry room banged open. Jeff hadn't bothered to close the door to his room. He made a note to do so when he went to sleep.
“How's it going down there?”
“You getting settled?”
“Cool. Well, listen, I'm gonna start working in a bit, but I wanted to talk to you a bit before I did, alright?”
“Sure!” Jeff said, immediately wincing at the child-like enthusiasm in his voice.
“Alright, finish up and I'll be out on the deck.”
Jeff flipped his bag shut, still half-full, and looked around. The room looked as bare as ever, but it was growing on him. The room mattered a whole lot less than the company.
He left his door open but closed the door to the laundry room behind him. As he left the kitchen he saw that the accordion doors off the dining room were open and sunlight was streaming into the house. The computer and the bottle were still on the dining room table, but the glass and the plate were gone. Jeff squinted in the light.
“Hey,” Stuart called, sitting beneath the umbrella. He was wearing sunglasses and his hair was damp. Wet patches stood out on the simple white t-shirt he was wearing over a pair of sweat pants. Apparently he had recently showered.
Jeff saw that there was another bottle on the picnic table, the same shape as the one in the dining room. There was a plastic bucket of ice cubes on the table, along with two glasses. Stuart tossed a fistful of ice in the empty glass and pushed it toward Jeff.
Jeff sat down and looked at the bottle.
“Woodford Reserve,” Stuart said, tilting his glass toward Jeff. “Small batch Kentucky bourbon. Put hair on your chest.”
Jeff picked up the glass and matched the other man's salute. He smelled the liquor dubiously. He took too
deep a whiff and it made his eyes water. Stuart took a pull from his glass and Jeff matched him. The fluid was cool in his mouth from the ice, but warm in his throat and he felt it slowly blaze a trail into his gut. He managed not to cough or wince, but it was with an effort.
“That's the stuff right there, lemme tell ya.” Stuart killed his glass and rattled the mostly-melted ice cubes in the bottom. “I'm raring to get back to work. I sat around for two weeks waiting to get started with that asshole sitting around here and it never happened. But I got a good feeling about you. I think things are coming together already, and I got this book that's ready to come out, whether I am or not. So I wanna talk to you a bit and then get to work, okay?”
“Couple hours from now, if you could put one of those pizzas in the oven so I can keep working, I'd really appreciate it.”
“Okay. So I'm sure you have a lot of questions for me and we'll get to them, but not today, okay? Think of what you wanna ask me tomorrow. Right now, there's still plenty of day left and if I get a good start, I could write eight, maybe ten hours before I have to call it quits. That'll help me get back on schedule. So I'm just gonna run down the rules for you and that'll be it, alright?”
Stuart smiled and put more ice and bourbon in his glass. “Step one, stop calling me sir. I don't want you calling me dude or bro, either, but you and I are gonna be smelling each other's farts before the summer is over, so we might as well be informal from the beginning.”
“Here's what this summer is and what it is not. You work for me. I'm not gonna work you hard, but that's the way it is. This is not a stepping stone for you. At the end of this summer, no matter how much I like you, you will not have a career thanks to me. This also won't make much of a resume credit, either, I'm afraid. Babysitting a novelist while he drinks too much and cranks out another book isn't much to brag about to a job recruiters.
“You're gonna want to ask me about my writing, we both know that, and we'll get there. But you are not, under any circumstances, allowed to ask me the question. You know what the question is?”
“Good. Sometimes I know exactly where my ideas come from and sometimes no one, least of all me, does, but either way it is an annoying fucking question and I get asked it enough on tour. Otherwise, you can just about ask me anything. I might not answer you or tell you the truth, but I'll answer you.”
“Sometimes I like to share my work with whoever's around. Sometimes I'll email my editor or my agent, but mostly I just want encouragement or enthusiasm. So I might give you something to read. If I do, you are not allowed to tell me you like it, I cannot make that too clear. Tell me what means something to you and why. Tell me what you hate. Tell me what makes you cringe. If you say, 'It's good,' or 'I like it,' it will take all my self control not to slug you.” He smiled when he said it, but Jeff understood. Inside, he was thrilled. He would be the first person in the world to read a passage of Stuart's new book. The first person in the fucking world.
“Attaboy.” He drank some more. “Now, you came out of the English department, so I suppose that makes you a writer, huh?”
“Well I hope to Christ you're a better writer than that other jackass was.”
“Yeah, him. Fuck he was boring. I mean, he was a stuffed shirt in person, too, but he asked me to read something of his, the Playboy story I think, and I don't think he appreciated it when I called it pedestrian.”
Jeff barked a laugh in response. “Awesome,” he said, grinning.
“I'm not gonna bullshit you, kid. But how 'bout you wait till I share something with you first before you gimme anything to read, though, okay?”
Jeff found himself nodding again. He looked down. The ice cubes in his bourbon had melted and he risked another sip. It wasn't much better.
Stuart didn't seem to notice. “So what kind of a writer are you?”
“Crime fiction, mostly,” Jeff said. “At least, so far.”
“Right on. What have you been working on?”
“Well, I spent senior year writing the first draft of a novel.”
“Wow. How old are you?”
“Take that to the bank, kid, I mean it. That's something to fucking be proud of. Not many of us get started that early. Gives you a lot of time to make mistakes and still be a big shot by the time you're thirty.” Stuart poured himself another drink and Jeff took a delicate sip of his own. He was surprised to see what a dent the writer had put in the bottle in such a short period of time.
“This book has been coming to a boil for more than a month now and I think it's time to let 'er rip. You wanna watch a movie or something, you can do it with the volume low. Once I'm into the story, you could have sex on the table next to me and I would block it out. Don't, please, but you know what I'm saying.”
Jeff nodded again. “What's it called?”
“The new one?”
Stuart smiled gently. “You like my books, don't you?”
“I really do.”
“What's your favorite?”
“What happened to your dad?”
Jeff blinked in surprise. “What?”
“Never mind. Some other time. It's just a thing with the people who like Crypt. The new book is called Tomb. That's all you get from me for now. Be off with you.” He waved his hand like Jeff was an annoying insect. “Put the pizza in around 6, yeah?”
“Sure,” Jeff said, standing to leave.
“Oh, and kid?”
“Next time you go shopping, buy yourself something you'll actually drink okay? I don't care what it is. You don't have to get hammered, but I feel like a dick sitting here while you pretend to sip that stuff. Rack of beer, bottle of vodka, don't care, just pick something up for yourself, okay?”