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e felt like he was wearing a diaper.  God, that was depressing, but not as depressing, he guessed, as ending up with one ball.  Not as depressing as lying dead in a field.  Not even as depressing as being 37 years old and having no job, no wife, no kids, no home, and not an ounce of fucking ambition.

He leaned on George, clutching the towel he was wearing like a skirt.

“I don’t know if I want to go back there,” he said, stopping outside the MAL, which looked weirdly like someone was trying to open it up again.

George sighed heavily.  “You don’t have anywhere else to go.  And your sister’s been out of her mind with worry about you.”

“She’s going to give me such a hard time.”

“Jeez, Jamie,” the vet said.  “Pull up your socks, would you?”

“Can’t I just stay with you?” Jamie said.  “I’ll sleep in the stable, help you with….whatever it is you do with horses.”

“No,” George said shortly.

“Jesus, Taryn was right,” Jamie said.  “You really can be a prick.”

“Listen,” George said, letting him go so precipitously he thought he was going to crumple right there on the sidewalk.  “I don’t need to do this.  I’ll leave you right now if you want.”

“No, man,” Jamie said.  “I’m sorry.  I want to go home.”

Want wasn’t exactly the word.  Need was more like it.  Didn’t have anywhere better to go at the moment, especially with one semi-detached ball, was the real story.

He hobbled up the staircase leaning on George’s now distinctly stiffer shoulder.  As they got toward the top of the flight, he could hear voices inside.  His sister haranguing the old man, no doubt, trying to get him to lay off the booze.  Just as she would undoubtedly do to Jamie.

But wait, he thought, as the voices became clearer.  That didn’t sound like his father.  That didn’t even sound like English.  Jamie had never quite made it over to Europe, but he recognized French when he heard it.

George knocked shortly and pushed open the door.  There was his sister, looking even more frantic than she usually looked, plus his brother-in-law Medhi, who if Jamie remembered correctly was supposed to be back in Paris where Cora had left him.  And there was also a young, handsome, tall guy wearing a pick alligator shirt with the collar popped up, who was the one talking French at the moment.  Plus, weirdly, Jimmie Sue from the Futureama.  Plus a young cop, looking even more baffled than Jamie felt.

“It’s okay.”  Jamie hobbled forward, extending his hand toward his sister.  “You guys can relax.  I’m back now.”

It was so alarmingly over the top of his sister to send the cavalry after him.  But sweet, too, in a Type A kind of way.

Cora and the rest of him looked at Jamie as if they were trying to place him from some distant past.

“Where the fuck have you been?” Cora asked finally.

“I had some things I had to take care of,” Jamie said.  “But you can all stop worrying now.  I’m home.”

“I hate to break it to you,” Cora said, “but this isn’t about you.  Juliette’s missing.”

Juliette.  That was his niece.  His sister, the Frenchies, the fortune teller, the cop and even George huddled together as if Jamie wasn’t even there.  Shit.  He needed a drink, or maybe a smoke.  He made his way upstairs, still hanging onto his towel.  He could hear his father snoring loudly — at least that hadn’t changed — and went into his own room, which someone had cleaned completely up, hiding all his stuff God knew where.  All his clothes were folded and stacked up on the shelves in his closet like this was the fucking Gap.  He located the baggiest pair of sweatpants, pulled them out toppling the rest of the clothes in the process, and then went in search of his bong.

Jesus, nowhere.  No bottles, either.  His racing forms, his phone numbers, everything was gone.

He reeled into the bathroom, and that’s when he remembered his iguana.  His concern about the animal had been the thing driving him home earlier, but once the Nazi meth dealers took control, he’d forgotten about everything but trying to save his own life.  Now, though, he saw instantly and with alarm that the iguana was missing from the bathtub.

He hobbled back downstairs, his heart thumping.

“Yo!” he said to the group.  They all looked up at him.  “Where’s Iggy?”

Read Jamie’s side of the story.

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