BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
BILLY CHIREVE (Part 1 of Chapter 1)
The Beanery Writers group online literary magazine offers Southwestern Pennsylvania authors an opportunity to share information on books they’ve written. Below is the first half of the first chapter of Mark Phaneuf’s new book. The second half will be posted at the beginning of next week.
Mark Phaneuf was born and raised in Annapolis, MD. He received his BA in English from Washington College in Chestertown, MD, and his MA in Liberal Arts from St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD. He lives in Plum Borough, PA, with his wife, daughter and dog. His first novel, Chandler College, was published in 2006. “Billy Chireve” is the first chapter to his new novel The Irony Gods.
All great couples seem to have interesting stories about how they met. Maybe their hearts collided when one ran a stop sign and plowed his SUV into the side of her sporty hatchback. Or maybe they were childhood sweethearts, who as the years progressed, played more and more intricate games of hide and seek. Elena Mercado and Luke Earle were such a couple. Forced together as Driver’s Ed partners in 10th grade, Elena and Luke learned the rules of love and the rules of the roads simultaneously. Along with parallel parking and identifying the blind spot, they discovered the back seat of the car. Luke, the guitar playing bad boy, got as far as he did in school through charm and luck. Involved in all sorts of civic-minded volunteer work, the straight-A student Elena couldn’t have been more different than Luke. While not exactly a match made in heaven, with all their passion and pettiness, Elena and Luke were a perfect match made in high school.
The last two years of high school, more of a pothole-ridden street than a smoothly paved parkway, provided many highs and lows for our two young lovers, but through it all, Elena always took Luke back. From what I’ve been told (I didn’t know them at the time), she loved him. In order to stay close to her soul mate, Elena went to college in-state, while Luke’s plan involved attending classes at the community college and playing his guitar. Their fairy tale romance ended near the end of Elena’s freshmen year at Towson University. After a difficult week of classes, including an Intro to Teaching presentation, she drove back home to Annapolis to surprise Luke, still living in his mom’s basement. It worked. Possibly the only person more surprised than Luke was Elena when she saw the stoned, half-naked girl on his futon next to Luke, his guitar, and his bong. That was the straw that broke the poor girl’s back.
(As a side note, when I heard this story from Kate, a mutual friend of ours, I realized that in some perverse way Luke Earle was a god to me. I doubted I would ever have a stoned half-naked girl on my futon on a Friday afternoon.)
However, Luke, somehow, someway, convinced Elena to take him back again; nearly four years later, their relationship, with more fits and starts than a NASA launch, continued on this bumpy trajectory. Currently they were broken up.
The reason you needed to know all of that was because I was on my way to a Christmas party with Elena, my platonic roommate. Not exactly a designated driver, my job on the cold and wintry night entailed providing moral support to Elena in case Luke showed. The host of the party, Billy Chireve, a high school friend of Elena and Luke, mentioned Luke might be there.
Originally the role of emotional wingman was supposed to be played by our other roommate Kate, an altogether more suitable choice. Unfortunately, she had decided to drive up to Philadelphia to see her boyfriend Pete. My college roommate, Pete worked as an assistant manager at a trendy Italian restaurant in the city. When he got a break from his job, he usually worked 60 hour weeks trying to get ahead, Kate would make that trek up I-95 to see him. Kate designed web sites on a freelance basis so her schedule remained fairly flexible. When Pete’s schedule opened up for the weekend, Kate checked with Elena about skipping the Christmas party and volunteered me as a backup. Since I don’t have a life, I didn’t have an excuse to get out of it.
Elena and I met originally as a set-up when she and Luke were on the outs – not a very interesting way to meet. Kate and Pete tried to hook us up, the roommate and the friend from home. In theory it was the perfect situation, killing two birds with one stone, but nothing ever happened with Elena. I don’t know why I wasn’t in to Elena or why she didn’t feel anything for me; who can really explain how these things work? Despite her attractive appearance, she had nice boobs and an exotic look due to her Argentinean father, I guess Elena was not my “type.” Kate teased me that I liked my women a little bit damaged, a little bit left-of-center; that was the Nick Rostov girl. And despite all of her comic/tragic misadventures with Luke Earle, Elena always seemed a little too normal for me.
Even if not in a monogamous way, Elena must’ve been Luke’s type. She mothered him and always forgave him his indiscretions, according to Kate. Elena, for some reason or another, wouldn’t or couldn’t let him go. Maybe she liked having someone to take care of. Sometimes her devotion or forgiveness or whatever you want to call it made her seem pathetic in my opinion. The possibility of Luke being at the party, maybe even playing a few songs, meant a chance of the old Driver’s Ed partners taking the car out for another spin, and that kept Elena nervous all evening.
Billy Chireve and his wife lived about twenty minutes north of Annapolis near the airport. A few weeks earlier Elena bumped in to Billy at the mall. After exchanging brief biographical updates, Billy invited her and Kate to the Christmas party. He said that it would mostly be people he worked with in the real estate business, but there would be some of the old gang from school, including Luke Earle. Elena believed that Billy couldn’t be aware of all they had been through since high school.
We took Elena’s car, that way being there for moral support and whatever wouldn’t preclude me from drinking. When she asked me, not long after we got on 97 North, if it would be okay if she introduced me as her date, I felt like it had been something she didn’t really want to ask. No one at the party would know me. I had never actually met Luke, so it sounded like it might be a fun way to spend the evening. Sadly, she wouldn’t let me speak with a Russian accent and pretend to be a mail-order groom. The only downside to our little ruse: what if I met a small-breasted emotionally damaged girl that I wanted to take home? When I voiced this concern to Elena, she said that we would worry about that when it happened. I think she was trying to be funny.
One thing I learned from living with Kate and Elena, along with the fact that when they live together women’s cycles sync up, was that you never show up to a party empty-handed. It made sense to me that if you were throwing a party, then you provide the food and drinks. I could see if you had some special dietary needs, but other than that, and I know that it sounds egotistical, my presence was what I brought to the party. As usual, Elena pointed out the error of my ways, and we brought a bottle of chardonnay.
Will, as he was now known in his professional life, welcomed us into his palatial prefab house crammed on a too-small lot, practically an arm’s length away from his neighbor’s microscopically different McMansion. Tall and lanky, Chireve never seemed to lose his preternatural smile which was almost a smirk. I didn’t like him right off the bat. I didn’t like his fake smile, his shiny red shirt, and for some antisocial and unhealthy reason I wanted to knock his jolly red Santa hat off his head, but I knew it would only reveal a perfectly sculpted head of hair full of pomade. He made me glad that I didn’t shave that night.
As pretty as her house and probably just as superficial, Billy’s wife Marie gave us a practiced tour of her house like she was a docent at the National Gallery of Art. From the light bulb candles designed to safely flicker in the windows to the scent of fresh pine mysteriously emanating from the artificial Christmas tree, you had to wonder if anything in the house was real. My indignation, and there wasn’t anything righteous about it, might seem unfounded. What had the darling Chireves ever done to me? Maybe it was jealousy, looking around at a life that seemed so out of reach for me: a house, a wife, a well-paying job. Yeah, it could be that, or it could’ve been that Chireve was a prick, and I sensed it right away.
Ten or twelve people stood in small clusters around the first floor living room. I imagined a few to be his golf buddies – people like him always had golfing buddies. A couple of the ladies in Christmas sweaters looked like they belonged to the Home Owners’ Association. No one Elena knew was there and definitely no one as low class as the reputed Luke Earle. She hadn’t seen him since they broke up after she caught him with the hostess of the romantic restaurant that Luke had taken Elena to on the previous night. It was actually quite funny how Luke had all the luck with getting women in to bed but was totally cursed in getting them out of there before Elena caught him.
When I returned from the spacious kitchen with its double sink and stainless steel refrigerator with a beer for me and a diet soda for Elena, I found her talking to a fortyish man and woman.
“You went to high school with Will? Amazing. He was probably captain of the golf team, eh?” The man spoke in the blustery and gregarious tone of a salesman. “I didn’t even go to my high school reunion. Did you ever see the band he was in? That bastard is always talking about those days.”
The woman, presumably his wife, chimed in between sips of her wine. “Jack’s not kidding. It seems like every time we go out to Happy Hour, we run into someone who knows Will from his music. At the office Christmas party last week, my God, you should’ve seen him. He wanted to sit in with the house band. Thankfully cooler heads prevailed, and Marie talked him out of it. He is really quite a character. I can’t imagine he’s changed much since high school.”
“We used to,” Elena said, “call him Billy.”
This made the man and woman laugh. The way these people acted, the way they threw parties, they seemed so much more mature than me; I had to constantly remind myself that they were as full of shit as me.
“About the band,” Elena continued, “I used to date the lead singer.”
“Ooh, were you a groupie?” Jack leaned in when he asked this and glanced down at Elena’s considerable cleavage.
“Honey, please.” The woman lurched forward at the improper question, nearly choking on her wine. I wondered if it was the wine that we brought. She cleared her throat in an attempt to signal her embarrassment at the question but it was not meant to stop Elena from sharing some juicy details. Me, I questioned myself again why Elena even brought up the subject of Luke Earle.
After Jack’s eyes moved back up to Elena’s, but before she could respond to the “groupie” question, Jack, his mind already on another topic, interjected, “Amazing! Was that the asshole who borrowed all of that money from Will?”
I thought Elena faintly nodded but I could not be sure.
“Do you work with Will?” I felt it was my duty to change the subject.
“That’s right. We both work out of Seabrook Realty. Not that we do a lot of work, if you know what I mean. Mainly we practice our golf swings.” Jack, with a drink in his hand, managed to mime a golf swing without spilling a drop. “Sheryl here works at a boutique. They sell bubble bath and lotions and shit like that. Isn’t that right?”
Sheryl rolled her eyes. “I think our drinks need refreshed, honey.” Wagging her empty glass in front of Jack, he took the not too subtle hint and headed off to the bar in the kitchen. “Actually,” she said, turning her full attention to Elena, “we import oils from Europe and Asia. They have some revolutionary all-natural skin products over there. You should come to our shop. Garden Delights. We are over in Ellicott City.” She produced a card from somewhere and gave it to Elena. “This week we are having a fabulous holiday sale, and since you are a friend of Will and Marie’s, I can take another 10% off. We can also special order skin creams especially for your complexion. It is very unique, your skin. Are you Portuguese, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“My dad is from Argentina.”
“I’ve never been to South America but I am sure we can order things from there. It was nice talking to you.” Apparently, with completion of her sales pitch, this woman felt compelled to move on to her next potential customer. “Remember to come by the store. You don’t even need to call first; I am always there. And if not, just show them the card I gave you. It’s like a VIP pass. Just ask for Sheryl. Happy Holidays.” And like that Sheryl and Jack vanished from our lives – a Christmas miracle.
“Interesting couple,” I said facetiously. “He kept checking you out. I thought he was going to say that your breasts are ‘amazing’.”
“Don’t be stupid, they were perfectly fine.”
“Are you talking about your breasts or Jack and the other one?” The joke made Elena laugh and lightened the mood. “Maybe he won’t show up. Do you want to leave now?” After about five minutes at the Chireves I knew I wouldn’t meet anyone interesting; my choices looked to leave or get drunk. I picked the latter.
“No, we can’t leave so soon. It would be rude. Didn’t your …never mind, let’s go find somewhere to sit down. I need to sit down.”
We found an empty couch in the room with the fireplace; instead of a roaring fire, an array of candles burned in an artistic display. I held my beer bottle in my hands because the coffee table looked too nice, and I didn’t see any coasters. Staring at the ceramic snowman centerpiece on the table, I tried to imagine a scenario in which I would buy such a piece. My attempts at the creative exercise failed spectacularly. Elena seemed a bit more relaxed once we had a seat.
I tried to make small talk. “So Billy, I mean Will, seems like a nice enough guy.”
“He’s got a wife, a job, a house. He has actually grown up.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“Sorry. I thought that was what you were implying.”
“Well I wasn’t. It is not just Luke. You, me, Kate, none of us are married.” Her need to defend him bordered on the pathological.
“But you thought it at least, right? You can’t tell me you didn’t think it. I’m your boyfriend, remember? You are supposed to be able to tell me anything.” I nudged her in the ribs, nearly spilling her soda.
“I don’t find you funny.”
“I bet you would if I said it with a Russian accent. Besides, all I am saying is that when you look at people, and the different roads they take, the different choices they make, people may start out at the same place, but they don’t usually end up in the same place.” I couldn’t tell if she was listening to me, but I had the sense that she would punch me if I started up in a funny voice, I brought up a different topic. “I don’t think Kate will make it back down tonight, do you?”
Return on Tuesday to read the rest of chapter I of The Irony Gods.