Episode 24 – Artie

Artie comes out from behind the bar…shows us to a table, pulls up a chair. We’re amazed, flattered, to be treated so good.

I wonder how the place can operate without a bartender, but the customers are unfazed…just start serving themselves…reach across the bar to use the tap or grab a bottle… the honor system! One guy takes off…leaves money on the bar.

“How do you keep track of everything?” I ask.

“They’re all regulars,” He explains. “If they drink more than usual, they tell me.”

I nod…still spaced about Dad’s other life. Can’t digest the concept. “Artie, doesn’t it seem really strange to you?” I ask. “I mean, how does Dad explain I’m never around?”

He shrugs. “Well, he talks about you a lot. I just figured you had school and friends down in Prescott Corners…so you did your own thing. I thought you were older.”

“When is he in the house?” I glance around the table. All my friends are freaked as I am…staring like they expect me to lose my shit any second. Guess nobody but Azalea can imagine their dad having a totally secret life.
Artie studies me. His white eye is s-o-o-o weird. It moves with the good eye…incredibly spooky, like the guy’s half zombie or something.
All of a sudden, Neal knocks his glass…grabs it in the nick of time. “Uh…mister…I mean, Artie,” he stutters. “How did you, like…uh…get hurt?” Points to his own eye.
Artie shrugs. “Snowmobile. Ran into a barbed wire fence.”
“Oh…wow!” Neal gasps.
Artie turns back to me. “Seriously?” He asks. “You don’t know anything about your dad’s life here?”
I shake my head.
“Up here everyone knows Maude LaMonde. He’s famous. Jeez, he’s here every day. Keeps a regular schedule…you can set your watch by it. Leaves his Prescott office at 3:30, here by 5:00…has dinner here, or at his place. Relaxes until 7:30, then heads over to the Cherry Pit to do his make-up. Goes on at 9:00. Drives down to your place around midnight. I can’t believe you don’t know this.”
“I don’t know squat. How long has he been living up here?” I’m hoping it’s a recent development to take the pressure off…since he’s, like, older.
“Hmmm. Good question,” Artie says. “Twenty years at least.”
I almost fall off my chair. “Twenty years???”
Artie nods. “Uh huh…definitely.” He looks as shocked as I am. “You haven’t met Alfred?”
“Who the fuck is Alfred?” I ask.
Artie’s light-hearted mood evaporates. He looks around, flashes a nervous smile, then pushes back his chair. “Anyone want a refill?”
Nobody says a word, except me. “So, who’s Alfred?”
“Ask your dad,” he replies. “I’m in over my head.” Heads to the bar.
In spite of myself, tears well up and I blink them back…begin to put two and two together. No wonder Mom had heart failure. “What the fuck is going on???” I scream…totally lose it. Start sobbing like a fucking baby…can’t stop. My whole body lets go. “I wanna go home,” I sob. “Get me the fuck out of this crazy place!”
Azalea wraps her arms around me. “Hush, Gussy. Take it easy. We’re here for you.” The others gather round…pat me on the back, say reassuring stuff.
“Jeez, Gus,” Carl says, “I didn’t mean to be shitty. You’ve got a lot to deal with.”
Artie looks up from the bar. “You guys call him Gus?”
They nod.
Azalea calls him over. “Can you help us? We really need to get him home?”
“Sure. There’s no charge for the beers. It’s on me. I’ll call a cab pronto. You got money?”
“Yup, we’re okay,” Azalea says.
Artie pulls out his cell, while my friends sit around staring at me. The place is so fucking run down…gloomy, I can’t wait to get the fuck out. Azalea keeps her arm around me…whispers stuff. “I love you, Baby. We gotta rely on each other, right? Families fuck with your head.”
We slide our fingers together. Makes me feel so much better knowing Azalea’s there…want to be with her forever.

Stacy’s phone rings and she gives her parents a bullshit story about staying at a friend’s overnight. She and Carl are totally into each other…start kissing and necking in front of everybody. The bar guys glance at us…chuckle. “Young love!”Neal looks lonely. Gotta find him somebody. He’s as horny as Carl and me, but has no outlet.

“The cab’s here,” Artie announces. We thank him…jump up, and clear out fast. Feel so much better leaving the Inn and Cherry Pit behind. I’m determined never to come back again…ever! Gotta convince Dad to stay here and leave Azalea and me alone!

To be continued…Read next episode!