Nick tapped his pen on the surface of the conference table and stared around at the walls of the room Dr. Miller had just left him in. It was white. Sort of. No, not white anymore. Sad, used-to-be white. Dead milk white...if dead milk had a color. He was surrounded by sickly pale, grayish, yellowish ugliness. Nick wanted to vomit. He'd been wanting to vomit for days. That awful, antiseptic medical smell somewhere between Pepto-Bismol and ammonia wasn't helping. He wondered if he'd ever get that smell out of his nose. At the moment, that seemed impossible. It was everywhere.
Nick's throat closed on a gag, and he had to concentrate to keep the bile from coming up. And that's all it would be. Bile. He hadn't eaten much in the hospital. Only what little they could force him to shove down his throat. He'd been on an IV half the time he was there anyway. Hadn't eaten much at home either. Nothing seemed to look good. During the ten hours he'd been in his current hell, he'd pushed away two nasty-as-shit trays of anemic-looking vegetables and no damn meat--least nothing he recognized as edible. Nick decided he would kill for a steak. Steak sounded fucking amazing. That had to be a good sign, right? He hadn't wanted food since the accident.
Nick looked at the neatly stapled stack of paper on the table in front of him. His counselor had shoved it under his nose, then stood and said he'd be back to discuss it in twenty. The metal legs of the counselor's chair had screeched uncomfortably against an already scarred linoleum floor when he'd stood. Nick could still hear the nails-on-a-chalkboard echo. He cringed. And they said the coke made him paranoid and nervous? Please. He'd take that kind of nervous any day. Better than sitting in a silent room waiting for his executioner to return. Already Nick hated the guy, and it had only been one day. Not even. He glanced at the packet in front of him. A questionnaire. Of course. And they seriously thought he was going to fill it out?
Psshhh. Fuck them.
Nick took the pen and started doodling on the table. He drew a three-dimensional lightning bolt, then scratched AC/DC into the cheap, pressed-wood pulp around it with the tip of the pen. He chuckled to himself.
"Take that, stick-up-the-ass counselor. You and your questionnaire can suck my cock."
Somehow it didn't feel quite as impressive to say things like that when there was no one to listen. Nick sighed noisily. Weren't all these damn people supposed to be around to listen to his shit? He seemed to be spending an awful lot of time alone.
The packet sat on the table, mocking him. His counselor had told him he needed to fill it out as accurately as possible so they could better assess him. They. Whoever that ended up being. So far they all sucked. Fuckers. Didn't matter what he thought of his counselor, the facility, or anything at all, really. He'd become what he always dreaded being. A nobody. He hated it. Nick decided, though, that they'd probably make him sit in the ass-ugly room for the rest of his life if he didn't do what they asked, so he glanced at the first question.
All right. That was easy enough.
Nicolas Aurelio Ventura the first. Aurelio means gold, bitches. Remember it.
Nick chuckled. They were going to loooove him. He might be stuck in butt-fuck, country-ass nowhere, but his sense of humor didn't need to be as dead as the rest of him.
Fuck. Not his favorite subject.
Place of birth. Crap hole.
Parents. My mom's a cunt. She left us. My dad's an asshole. He beat the shit out of me and my brother. Are you going to psychoanalyze that? Fuck. I don't want to end up with more time in therapy just cuz my parents were douches.
Nick thought about scratching that out, but he didn't. Maybe they'd feel bad for him and give him time off for good behavior or some shit.
Siblings. My brother used to rock. Now he's got his face suctioned to fucking Jesse's ass. He sucks. This whole thing sucks.
Nick sighed. It all sucked. Hard. The questionnaire, the weird hospital-like smells, the room he was stuck in for the next hell-if-he-knew how long... The fact that he was wearing a pair of gray sweats, knee socks, and no shoes. His life had become a joke. The next set of questions loomed, blank and cruelly mocking. They were going to make him do what they wanted. At least he'd have the satisfaction of doing it his way--even if it meant doing it over later.
3. Describe your partner. If you do not have a lover/partner/significant other/spouse, please answer the questions about your closest friend.
Nick supposed that was easy enough. He'd never had a partner, never wanted one. All he had was Shane. Too bad the thought of Shane made him cringe lately.
I don't have a lover. My best friend is my brother.
How long have you been together? We're not anymore. Before that, our whole lives. He's my fucking brother.
What do you like to do together? Play guitar.
What do you do to make your lover happy? We're fucking related. 'Lover' is creeping me out. What do I do to make him happy? Not much lately.
What do you do even though it upsets your lover? Brother. Party too much, I guess. He's always with Jesse now anyway. What the fuck does it matter what I do?
If someone was going to meet your lover for the first time, what one thing would they need to know? He's a punk-ass bitch now. He used to be so fucking cool. Fuck.
What's your absolutely favorite thing about your lover? Brother. He'll always be there when I need him. Nothing. He's a bitch.
Nick flipped through the pages, randomly crossing out sections there was no way in hell he'd answer, no matter how long they made him sit there. He was effing done talking about Shane, and if these assholes thought they were going to get some pathetic emo tale of brotherly love and estranged affection out of him, they were dead wrong. Nick Ventura was a rock star. He liked to party. End of story. Roll the motherfucking credits. His little...indiscretion had nothing to do with his dumb brother and that cock shackle, Jesse. The sooner all these assholes learned that, the better.
There were only two more sections that he was willing to answer. He wanted to get the damn thing done so he could go back to his room and pretend to sleep. It sucked, though, because he couldn't sleep. Not really.
First there were the nightmares, dreams about him doing the stupidest shit in the world just to score another line of coke. Cocaine dreams, the doctor had called them, and part of the withdrawal process. Nick snorted. Really, they were more ridiculous than scary. Of course that didn't stop them from keeping him awake at night.
But even worse than the nightmares--how the hell was he supposed to sleep when he had no effing idea where his guitar was?
Nick counted the dark gray speckled squares on the linoleum floor and took a long, cleansing breath. Moving along.
7. If you were...what would you be?
Nick glanced over the section. He had no idea what vital information about his psyche would be gleaned from the list of questions. They were dumb as hell. Easy though, so he did them--his way, of course.
a metal: Gold. Duh.
a plant: Starts with an "m." You guess.
a fault: What the fuck? San Andreas?
a virtue: Hotness.
a season: I'm not answering that. Fucking stupid...oooh I see sex! Better. Much better.
Are you a virgin? Laughing...
Do you have a monogamous partner? Fuck, no. Wait, did I say that loud enough? FUCK, NO!
Who was your first lover? I think it was Tina Gomez in 8th grade... Wait, maybe it was her brother. He was kind of hot. Fuck, I'm horny.
Who is your current lover? My right hand. Have I said this place sucks yet?
What is your favorite sexual position? TOP ;)
Do you have any sexual fetishes? Hmmm. Orgies? Check. Getting my dick sucked in public? Check. Black lace? Check. Bondage? Sure, why not? Flight attendants? Fuck, yeah! S&M? You whip me, I'll kick your ass, but I don't mind doing it to you. Guns N' Roses? Totally...
There were only a couple more questions Nick hadn't already dismissed. He figured he'd better fill them in so he could get the damn thing over with.
13. Fear, pain, and loss.
Great. Every guy's favorite subject.
What are you afraid of? Seeing my shrink naked. He has moobs.
How do you deal with your fears? Xanax. Doesn't everybody?
Why did you cry most recently? Fuck you. I don't cry.
Nick's throat felt tight, and the pressure behind his eyes built. Hell no. No effing way. He was done. Done. They could keep him in the ugly room for the rest of his life if they wanted to. He scratched thick black lines through the rest of the section, then tossed the packet on the table along with the pen. Nick got up and pounded on the door with his fist before he realized it was unlocked and tossed it open to stick his head out into hall.
"Dr. Miller? I'm not doing any more of this shit!"
His counselor came scurrying down the hall like the insignificant cockroach that he was. Nick was already tired of dealing with the loser.
"Here." He stomped back to the table, grabbed his questionnaire, and shoved the offending packet back into the surprised grip of Dr. Miller. The little insect gazed at him with lens-enhanced buggy eyes. Nick wanted to rip his glasses off and poke at those eyes until they popped. "I'm going to my room for the rest of the day," he grumbled.
Dr. Miller stepped in front of him. "No, you're going to see our nutritionist. Then you're going to dinner."
"But I'm tired! Do you know how early I was up?"
The insect glared at Nick, his invisible antennae waving. Nick felt the power of that awful gaze. He cowered, actually cowered. It pissed him off. Nick fucking Ventura doesn't cower.
"The nutritionist is down the hall, third door on your right. I'll just watch and make sure you get there safely." Which was code for You're on lockdown, buddy. Get your ass where it's supposed to be.
Nick slipped into the nutritionist's office with a mix of relief and absolute dread. While he wasn't going to be with shrink-o dissecting his love for Shane and feelings of abandonment (because he knew that's how those assholes would see it), the food guy had the potential to be the biggest nag of them all. Nick clenched his teeth. It had been a shitfest of a first day. He could only imagine every following day was going to get worse.
The man--if you could even call him that--sitting behind the large desk looked more like an overgrown college kid than someone with an actual degree. And he was...well, he was kind of hot. Kind of really hot--floppy blond hair moussed up into a preppy fauxhawk, that really pretty golden skin only true blonds ever have, and from what Nick could tell, a body he'd rather see naked underneath him than behind a desk.
"Um, are you really the nutritionist?" Nick felt awkward. The feeling wasn't familiar, and he hated it. The guy (Nick refused to call him a man) looked up, and damn, his eyes were all gold and green in the lamplight. Nick's stomach fluttered, and then when the nutritionist smiled, Nick almost tripped on the smooth linoleum floor.
He was instantly attracted. And that attraction instantly pissed him off.
"Yes, sweetie, I'm really the nutritionist. Have a seat. I'll be with you in a second." Oh no no no. "Did you fill out Dr. Miller's questionnaire?" His voice was gentle. Soft. It annoyed the hell out of Nick. This whole experience was annoying him in more ways than he could count. Nick started to think about calling his lawyer to see if there was a different deal he could make to avoid doing time. Hell, maybe even jail would be better.
Nick grumbled a "yes" and flopped down into the chair opposite...LUKA NOVAK, LICENSED NUTRITIONIST, the desk plaque read. Luka Novak. Fitting. Cute. Irritating.
"So is this going to take forever? Because, you know, I've had enough of this shit for one day."
All he got in return was an understanding smile. "I'll try not to drag it out, hon."
"Hmmm?" Big, gold-green eyes peered up at Nick over whatever it was Luka had been looking at.
"My name is Nick. Not 'hon,' not 'sweetie.' Nick."
"Of course." Luka Novak, licensed nutritionist, smiled at Nick, his face full of sunshine and sugary sweetness. Nick wasn't fooled for a second. He wondered if he'd get more time in the slammer if he happened to punch a hospital employee.
"Oh my God, Jeans, I'm going to kill him. Kiiiillll." Luka dropped his forehead onto the fajita-pan-scarred wooden surface of his favorite table at Los Poblanos, a neighborhood Mexican place where he met his best friend, Jeana, for margaritas and nachos a few times a month.
"I think you need another margarita."
Luka groaned. "I think you're right." Another margarita or ten might be the only thing that could erase the frustration of his last customer of the day. As it was, he was ready to start ripping the heads off every paper flower in the restaurant.
They drank margaritas and ate their nachos until they were picking little scraps of cheese off the plate. Luka was in the middle of a faded, happy, can't-feel-his-nose kind of drunkenness that was the best thing for losing the memories of a crap-awful day.
"So this new patient...is he a total pain in the ass?" Jeana took a long, slurpy sip from her third--no, make that fourth--peach margarita.
"Thanks for reminding me." Luka rolled his eyes. "You have no idea, though. This tattooed princess thought he was going to walk into my office and wrap me around his stupid designer finger, like I was going to fall right over at his feet or something." He sighed, and Jeana laughed out loud.
"He thought, huh? Too bad for him, he doesn't know your secret weapon."
"Which is?" Luka's head had started to swim. He thought they might have to get more chips.
"You, Mr. Balls of Steel, look like a softy, but you'll bend him to your will eventually."
"I'm gonna try." Luka rolled his eyes. "Would you believe he actually said he didn't want to eat too much because then he wouldn't fit into his rock star skinny jeans?"
"Rock star?" Jeana perked up. "Who is this guy?"
Luka gulped. Idiot. "No one. It was just what he called his jeans, you know. Like the style?"
"Good try." Jeana guffawed. "You're awful at lying. It's like when you had the"--Luka clapped a hand over her mouth--"twins... I wasn't going to say their names, but anyway, you swore you weren't going to tell me what famous celebutants were in the clinic, and all it took was a few shots of tequila. So you might as well tell me now. You know it's going to kill you if you don't."
Luka sighed. Damn margaritas. "Promise to shut it?" Jeana nodded, but Luka could see a grin twitching at her mouth. "I'm serious, Jeana Marie Larson. Promise. I'd be filleted and grilled if word gets out and the paparazzi show up."
"Paparazzi?" she squeaked. Loudly. "Are you for real?"
"Shhh! Jeans, seriously. I really would probably get sued if this got past you and me."
"Okay, now I'm officially dying to know." She grinned, then made a locking motion over her mouth and tossed away the key. "Lips are sealed. Promise. Just tell me who it is."
Luka cleared his throat and looked around to make sure no one was watching them. Or listening. "Remember the news from a few weeks ago? The, ahem, certain musician who slammed his car into Saks when he was under the influence?"
Luka waited for the moment it dawned on her. He knew it would. Wait for it...wait for it. Jeana's eyes went wide. "You mean Ni--" He covered her mouth again before she could spit it out.
"Don't say it! And yes, that would be the one."
"Oh my God, oh my God. I can't believe you have N--" Luka glared. "Him in your office every day. Just you and him. By yourselves." She giggled. "Have you seen his tattoos? Soooo hot." Jeana went all dreamy-eyed and girlie.
Luka rolled his eyes. "Oh Lord. This is like your Mario Lopez crush from middle school, isn't it?"
Jeana swiped at him. "That never happened."
"And..." He lowered his voice. "Nick Ventura is not at Glenwood, okay?"
"Okay. But really, is he that bad?"
"Yes," Luka groaned. "At first it seemed like he was going to be okay, but then he contradicted every little thing I asked him to do. First he doesn't want to gain weight, then he doesn't like to exercise, then the shit tried to tell me he was a vegetarian. I've seen him eating steak in paparazzi shots before. I think he was just trying to piss me off by then. I should put him on a vegan diet to teach his dumb butt a lesson."
"But he's eventually going to do what you want?"
Luka rolled his eyes. "Of course."
"You're going to give him the sugar-and-sunshine routine, aren't you?"
"Yep." Luka grinned. "Works every time."
"So you're going to whip this rock boy into shape?"
Luka's grin widened. "I'll consider it a personal challenge."
Jeana smiled back, then looked at her watch. "Hey, I didn't realize how late it is. I want to get home so I can shower before Gil Kelley is on, 'kay?"
Luka snorted. "Okay. I forgot you watched that. It's cute but kind of sad."
"Gil Kelley is a freaking classic. I've been watching him my whole life. Plus he's having Justin Timberlake on tonight. I know you understand how I feel about Justin." Jeana did a mock swoon against the vinyl booth.
"Oh my God. I'm officially leaving. Like, right now."
Jeana swatted him on the butt with her purse as he slid out of the booth. "You're just a hater!" she called after him. "Hater!"
Luka responded with a laugh and pushed open the restaurant door into the cold winter night.