Product Placement

Chapter 14 - Mixed Messages


It had been a long, long day. Aside from having to cram for every test ever before the winter break, the snow that had been predicted for the evening had turned to a downpour, and the lucky pair of Hustler and Storyteller had been caught right in the middle of it. Butch thought the whole manner was hysterical, even as they stood dripping in the vestibule of HK's home. Francis, on the other hand, didn't think it was funny at all. He inventoried his coat stock (no damage, thankfully), and excused himself to go take a warm up shower. Before he went in, however, Francis made Butch change into an old pair of sweatpants that were too small for him and forced him to towel off before he did or sat on anything.

Presently, Butch was leaning up against a wall, itching for a cigarette but not daring to go out or light up inside. He figure that, if Fran could stop being such a little girl and finish his shower in under an hour, then he could stem his craving by doing impure things on his living room couch.

The phone rang while he was contemplating this, Butch was jostled out of his thoughts by a shrill ring. He gathered himself and cast a glance over to the wall. It was rude to answer other people's phone, wasn't it? Sure it was. He leaned against the opposite wall, his gaze falling to the answering machine on a rather needlessly ornate table. The ringing stopped and the machine picked up.

"Boy? Are you home?"

HK's dad, or so he thought. It was weird. Franny sounded a lot like him. Like a lot. It was kind of eerie how similar it was, only the voice on the answering machine sounded a lot more dead and tired than Franny. Even at his most exhausted, The Hustler always sounded alive. What bothered Butch most, though, was the fact that the toneless voice was calling for a 'boy' rather than asking for him by name. Sure, it should be obvious who he was looking for, but really? Who calls their son 'boy'? Butch pushed off the wall and stood, listening.

"Kid? Are you there? School can't be that long. Pick up." A pause "Kid? I know you're in the house somewhere…"

Butch found his hand clenching and unclenching, his jaw set and a frown on his face. Every time the voice said 'boy' or 'kid' or 'young man' his blood ran hotter. He has a name, damn it say his name! The voice continued on, demanding in the most boring tone one could command in for the 'kid' to pick up and listen to him. Butch just got madder and madder. He wanted to grab the receiver and snarl into it, tell him he got the wrong number and to fuck off. Idiot. This was the same son of a bitch who left Franny alone for months at a time.

"Listen, young man…"
"Say his name."
"I know you're there, boy…"
"His name!"
"...I guess you're not there…"
"His name! Just call him by his fucking name!"
"Call your mother when you get in. She… I don't know. Just call her."


"Son of a BITCH!"

Butch slammed his fist into the tabletop, rattling the machine as it beeped once and proceeded to blink its little red light. He didn't know why he was so mad. He didn't know why he was shaking. Fuck that. He knew exactly why. How could they just forget about him like that! Their own son! They just left him here and acted like nothing was wrong! You're fucking parent you just don't do that. If that bastard was anywhere near him ever Butch could just-

"Butch?" Francis was behind him, "Hey… what's up?"

Butch turned, blinking owlishly at the hustler behind him. His hair was still wet and he had changed into a worn looking sweater and old jeans. He regarded Butch like he'd just grown another head, but wanted to comfort him about it 'cause, hey, if you think about it an extra head could be kind of cool. Butch shook his head and realized his position really did make him look kind of crazy; hunched over, his fist square and sore in what looked like a permanent date. He was still kind of shaking. Francis reached out and rubbed his back and the anger drained bit by bit until he was more limp than upset.

"Uh… your old man called." He muttered, groping for the larger hand, finally finding it. "Sorry. 'Bout the table."

Francis gave him a knowing look and sighed softly. Butch couldn't help but notice the warm breath hitting his neck and he shivered, then immediately hated himself for it. Should he be the strong one here? It was Francis' father that was being the asshole, not his. Why was he being so calm? Surely he could, you know, start emoting now and that would be perfectly understandable. It wasn't like Butch blabbed; he was a storyteller, not a gossip – and for fucks' sake, if he truest Fran with his scars the guy could trust him with some dissatisfaction with his parents.

But among all this thinking Butch failed to notice Fran had started talking. Butch must have looked confused, because when Francis looked up and cleared his throat, figuring he had been mumbling. It took him a minute and he couldn't quite look at him, but the hustler managed the barest of explanation.

"Look, my dad is an asshole. There's no getting around it and there's no denying it. My parents aren't… parents. They're like… roommates." He ignored the horrified look Butch and rubbed his back a little more before he turned to the living room. "Don't freak out about it. It's not worth it."

Francis retreated, foolishly thinking he put an end to the conversation. Butch didn't get the memo, and followed him. He kept talking, kept saying his name to get him to turn around. When it didn't work, he just started voicing his entire argument and opposition to the Hustler's current family situation and how bland HK was about it.

"What the hell do you mean 'roommates'?" He asked, trying to get the hustler to stop. "How the fuck are you okay with this? He barely knows you exist!"
"I know. I know, okay. You can stop bringing it up." His voice was even, but Butch still felt like he was yelled at, and flinched appropriately, even though he wasn't being looked at. "I… It's not worth it. They've given up on trying to be parents, and I've given up on trying to make them that way. Don't look at me like that. I'm not some chump."

He exhaled loudly and padded into the living room, sitting down on the couch and leaning forward, his elbows on his knees. He heard Butch pad after him, but he had gone quiet for the time being. The hustler turned, about to say something, but Butch was already on him, his arms around his neck and his face buried in his shoulder in a rare show of blatant affection.

"I'm sorry." Butch mumbled, and before Francis could make him stop, he leaned up and kissed his cheek. "I'll shut up now. Just… don't be upset all night, okay? I won't mention it if you don't"

Butch withdrew as quickly as he had attached and left the hustler to his devices, making some excuse about going for a smoke. He took his sweet time, leaving Francis to stew in his thoughts and give up on the quiet. By the time Butch got back from the back door, he was wet again and Fran was watching the news. He decided to give him a few more minutes, and poked around the house for a little while. He came across the machine, its little red light blinking happily, the little digital readout saying 'One New Message!' Butch stared at it carefully, itching for a smoke.

And suddenly the annoying little machine was a pile of plastic rubble, smashed against the back wall.

Francis didn't seem to mind.



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