His stomach gradually and painfully tightening into a ball, David pocketed the misplaced baggie of fertilizer, tucked the twelve-pack of pop under his arm, and stepped out onto the damp driveway to face his wife. Alex was now standing, the strains of Richard's off-key tenor ("TEENAGE AMBITIONS YOU REMEMBER WELLLLLL...") emanating behind her from the depths of the house. When the barely-resonating warblers were suddenly silenced by the screen door swinging home with a muffled click, Alex crossed her arms and David knew it was time to come clean.
"So," he began, "I might have fucked up."
Silence, save for the hardly audible pitter patter of rain on the roof of Richard's Geo. In the absence of Alex's response, he let his face contort into a facsimile of a grin.
He made another attempt: "My bad?..."
"There was a bag of cocaine in our shed, Merrick," she monotoned.
"Okay, so I guess that cat's out of the bag," he mumbled, quickly correcting his volume to add "I guess it won't really help if I say it's not mine."
She gave the slightest of nods.
Without another word, she turned on her heel and grabbed at the door knob, missing the burnished brass knob the first time and angrily fumbling for the second. As she disappeared through the door, Richard's dim, ad infinitum repetition of "HEEEEAAAAAT OF THE MOMENT!" could briefly be heard from within.
"Alex!" David called, starting off at trot, carefully paced so not to shake up the contents of his case of pop. "Can we not do the angry yelling thing?" He managed to wedge his foot between the frame and the swiftly-closing door, reopening the glass-set portal with a little leverage. He saw Alex disappear into the kitchen on hurried feet, wherein Richard was now strutting along to his own rendition of "Paint It, Black."
"Oh, Hell," David muttered, and set the twelve-pack down on the third step of the stairwell. Continuing his speed walk, he rounded the corner into the kitchen and came face-to-face with his wife, now holding the bag of coke in her outstretched hand. Whatever awkwardly-worded apology David was about to utter died on his lips right at that moment.
Richard, of course, was oblivious, still grooving and bopping to the seminal Stones hit, his chin jabbing in alternating directions with the beat, much like a seizing bird. Alex waited for him to tune to their station, but after five seconds of continued bellowing ("I have to turn my head until my darkness goes...") she cleared her throat, her cough audibly lined with years of repressed annoyance.
Finally coming back to Earth, Richard said, "Yeah, what is itohhhhhhhhhhhhh..." His eyes had suddenly locked on the powder-filled bag mere inches from his nose. "Right, wow. This isn't good, is it, Dave?"
"I wouldn't think so," his friend replied, whatever steam that had powered his protests having vanished in the last few seconds.
"Now that I have both of your respective attentions," Alex started, "can I ask why there was enough dope to set off an entire K-9 unit in our shed? or on our property in the first place?"
"Yeah," Richard replied. "Yeah, that was me. I did that."
Alex allowed herself the slightest of smiles, defined more by her eyes than the curve of her mouth, before chucking the bag back on the counter. "Thanks for the honesty, Richard." She looked her husband in the eye. "See, sometimes it is the best policy."
David shrugged, guiltily.
"Now, before I blow up at either of you, let's attempt to... fix whatever it is we have on our hands," Alex suggested. "Richard?"
The other man looked up from his fingernails. "Yessum?"
"Can you give me a reason why I shouldn't kick your ass out of our house right now?"
Richard pondered this query for a few moments, his eyes tracing an invisible script while he parsed through possible responses, as if he were filtering the least damaging response from anything else that would result in verbal immolation. "Um, I didn't lie to you about the cocaine being mine?..."
David scoffed, "Yes you did!"
"Hey, but only to you!" He turned back to Alex and reasoned, "Right now, I'm the only person in this house who hasn't lied to you today."
"Rick, you brought, what, ten grams of coke into our house. Nothing you say can possibly get you on my good side, so stop trying."
Richard nodded. "So, do I leave, or what?"
"Stay." Now she faced David. "You."
"Yeah," David groaned, not meeting his wife's gaze.
"Believe it or not, your friend is staying." The two men traded confused--and in the case of Richard, relieved--glances at this utterance. "Staying only because he had the balls to fess up rather than tiptoe around the situation in the most lummox-like fashion possible."
"Dude, whipped," Richard whispered.
"And frankly, now that all this is out of the open--and now that you're both consumed with guilt, I imagine--I can continue working toward tonight's meal in a bullshit-free environment. And before you start with the oh-so-sincere 'thank yous,' Richard, just know that will only add to the bullshit cesspool. You're not still in this house because you're a beacon of responsibility. You're a jackassed freeloader if there ever was one, but after all this I now have someone else to put up with my sisters tonight. So, congrats, by the hand of God or Satan you've managed to engineer both your disgrace and your salvation."
David raised a finger to interject. "Do you even want to have this dinner in the first place?--"
"Shhh. My only catch is that you dispose of that poisonous shit in the next two hours. I would have flushed it by now but honestly I don't want to put any more of my fingerprints on the bag. So, your call."
Delicately, she set the bag back down on the counter and used a wooden stirring spoon to shove the coke Richard's way. After another awkward pause he reached for the baggie, briefly eyed its contents, then let it disappear into his coat pocket."
"Now, go downstairs and let me talk to my husband in piece. Deal?"
Flashing his pearly whites, Richard silently assented and fled for the basement door, his socks hardly making a sound on the varnished hardwood. The eternal nuisance gone, Alex faced her husband.
"Alex, I am so sorry," David said, his words drained of any strength at this point.
She exhaled through her nose and sat back against the counter, having resumed feeling the bumps and divots of the overly-large potato in the last minute. "I lied. I guess that isn't helping to keep the bullshit bucket empty."
"I wouldn't think so."
"I confess, I've had zero tolerance for Richard for a while, now. The drugs--sure, that's something, but it's also just a catalyst, a straw breaking the camel's back, all that." She sighed. "I lied because it's not my business at this point. He's your friend, so the ball's in your court. I can't decide how you deal with him and every problem, every lay, every stupid habit he drags with him, but at some point you need to stop beating around the bush and confront him about all his shit."
"I did, at the pub," David protested.
"Yeah, over a pint. I bet that was really cathartic, what with you two blaring Asia between here and Catherine St." She made no attempt to hide the sarcasm. "I don't doubt you brought the issue up, I really don't. But ask yourself: was that guy, prancing about our kitchen, shouting the lyrics to the Stones, blind to the coke--his coke--I was holding in his face, really affected by anything you said over lunch? Conflicted, guilty, anything at all? Or was it crocodile tears all over again?"
Her nails were digging into the soft, wrinkled surface of the potato. She caught herself doing this, stopped, and lobbed the root into the corner garbage pail with a perfect arc. "Hmmm," David vocalized. "That was good."
"Thanks." She brushed to the side some hair that had fallen in front of her eyes, and as her forearm paced in front of her visage David caught a glance of something--not a self-assured smirk, but a smile. Of relief? closure? It was so fast, so peripheral, he couldn't tell.
"Talk to him, sometime tonight. I don't care what you say, just make sure he understands it." Finished, she turned back to the stove. "In the meantime, you can try to get on my good side again by shucking this corn." She indicated one of the grocery bags Richard had brought in with a tilt of her head.
"As you wish." He finally stepped over the threshold, set the baggie of fertilizer on the spot atop the counter where the cocaine had only recently rested and draped his coat over a chair. Quietly, he took an ear of corn from the bag and held it over the garbage bin as he commenced stripping the leaves and wispy silk from the golden kernels beneath. After awhile, he pivoted to look at Alex. "You know, you aren't morally obliged to invite your sisters to anything."
She chuckled. "Like that thought hadn't crossed my mind."