"Who the hell are you?"
Henry, who had been sitting on the couch, his laptop on the coffee table in front of him, looked up. "Huh?"
"Who are you? And where is—?"
"Dad, pretending you're senile isn't going to make me leave. If anything, it might make me have you declared incompetent, and all this," he said, waving his hands in the air, "will be mine." He laughed in what was supposed to be a mockingly evil way. He sounded mentally challenged.
"Are you . . . slow?"
Henry sat up straight. "Come on, Dad, knock it off. Not funny."
The door seemed to burst inward thanks to a large bald man, followed by a woman who wore an appealing, if slightly slutty-looking, dress.
"Ready to go, Ed?" the woman said, or screeched, or what the hell was the matter with these people? Couldn't they talk at a normal volume, with normal speed?
"Ready for what?"
"For lunch. Ed, are you okay? You look kind of . . . confuuuused." The woman crouched down and squinted at him. He could have sworn her eyes crossed, and he felt the unmanly urge to punch a woman right in the forehead. God, he needed a drink and a cigar, and--
"He's been acting kind of strange, Bonnie."
Tim, wearing an apron and carrying a feather duster almost as if it were a scepter sashayed through the room. "Maybe it's menopause."
Ed shook his head. "Oh hell, I'm fine, stop looking at me like you're trying to find Vince's penis or Henry's spine. Let's go have lunch. You people worry too much." He stormed out, ignoring the shocked looks they gave him. No, nothing he said was funny, but he still could have sworn somebody laughed. Maybe god.
All through lunch, which involved Henry rushing to speak to fill in every pause almost before the other person stopped speaking, and Vince saying goofy things that drew either disapproving stares or horsey laughs from Bonnie, Ed wondered just what the fuck was going on. Did his family always act this stupid? Did they always walk around with impossibly wide eyes and little smirks that implied there'd just been a joke, or one was coming?
After lunch, Ed and his family headed to his house . . . where he remembered they all lived, even Vince and Bonnie, thanks to some recent stupid business decisions and his even more stupid decision to let them live there. He sat in his chair, looking at all these people sitting around him, and he was about an inch from bursting into tears. There wasn't supposed to be a god damn laugh track. What the hell had happened to--
Denny jerked at the not-so-light slap to his cheek. He shook his head a little and focused on Alan's concerned face right in front of his.
"What the hell are you hitting me for?"
Alan exhaled, visibly relieved. "You took a little trip, Denny. I couldn't get you . . . ."
One of the female interns, Denny couldn't remember her name but he'd know her rear end anywhere, came rushing out onto the balcony. Alan put his hand up. "It's okay, he's fine now . . . it's all right, thank you." She asked if he was sure, then nodded and left, telling the two or three people who had come running behind her that all was well apparently, because they all stared for a moment then headed back inside.
Denny tilted his head. "You shouted for help, didn't you? Cell phone would have been easier."
Alan tilted his head. "I panicked."
"Yeah? I must have . . . DENNY CRANE!" He grabbed Alan's lapels with both hands and pulled him forward, almost into his lap. "I'M DENNY CRANE!"
"Yes, yes you are." He covered Denny's hands with his own. "You are the one and only."
"DENNY . . . Denny Crane. Oh, Alan, you have no idea where I've been. It was . . . it was like a waking nightmare!"
"It's all right, Denny, you're here now." He managed to pry Denny's fingers from his suit, meaning to take his hands, but they clutched onto his arms the moment they were free.
"It was, I don't know where it was, but there was this annoying boy, and then a man, and then this woman . . . I was in hell, wasn't I? It was a little taste of hell." He used Alan's arms to pull himself out of the chair, and released only one so he could grab his drink and gulp it down.
"No, not hell, Denny, just a . . . fugue, perhaps? An unpleasant daydream?"
Denny shook his head so hard that his cheeks jiggled. "Mad Cow hallucination . . . of hell. I don't want any more of those, Alan. I think actual hell would be better." Denny noticed that Alan seemed to be trying to smile, but his eyes weren't quite making it. "Here I was the one in hell, and you've gone pale."
"I'm always pale; what's your point? By the way, I prefer albescent."
"Are you all right?"
Alan stretched his neck for a moment as if his collar was too confining. "I am now. For a moment, I thought you might have had . . . a stroke, when you wouldn't answer." He cleared his throat and wiped a thumb over his eye. "And you wasted a perfectly good cigar." He gestured toward Denny's chair.
"I'm sorry. That was an expensive cigar."
Alan swallowed hard and hugged Denny, a long hug, tight and full-bodied, then kissed the side of his face. "You really scared me, Denny."
"I can see that. But hey, I think I just dozed off, a sort of sleepy fugue, wasn't that the word you used? You know I have sleep disorders out the wazoo. It was like . . . sleep paralysis or some cockamamie sounding thing." He led Alan to the edge of the balcony where they looked over at the city, Denny's hand moving down Alan's arm to clasp his hand and pull it up against his stomach. "I'm really all right."
Alan nodded and pursed his mouth, and seemed to be lightly chewing on the inside of his bottom lip.
"In fact, I remember now that I did have a dream like this the other day. I woke up thinking I was, well, me, but I was wearing a fishing vest and I was in that place, and there was a very feminine man named Tim dusting my coffee table and talking about the horrible state of my socks. I went and got my gun and threatened him, and I really did want to shoot him, Alan, I'm not kidding you. I'd been trying to wake up forever, it seemed like. I kept hearing this really strange laughter. It wouldn't stop. I wanted to shoot all those people, too. There, you see," he said, waving his other hand, "bad dreams and sleep paralysis, that's all." He took a deep breath in through his nose. "I did like the fishing vest, though."
"Dreams, then, you feel confident that's what it is? Because you can always see someone, have a scan, to be sure."
"Just bad dreams, Alan, and some sort of screwy sleep problem. With any luck, the dreams will only last about 9 months before they're cancelled and they disappear completely. I do remember, when I realized I was dreaming, that I hated everyone who was there with me, and just kept wishing for you."
Alan nodded. "Dreams aren't frightening, Denny. But just now, when I didn't know. . . ." He swallowed and took a deep breath. "I find myself glad you hated them all. Especially since . . . I don't like the thought of you going anywhere I can't go with you."
Denny felt his hand squeezed harder. "Neither do I. You are sleeping over tonight, aren't you?"
"Yes, whether you want me to or not."
"You know I always want you to. I always want you. No matter where I go, I always will."
"Let's make it easy on each other, then. We'll only go somewhere away from here," he said, gesturing at the building and the street, "when we can go together. Somewhere with no annoying people like you mentioned, no odd laughter, no fishing vest—"
"Hey, come on. That and the gun were the best parts."
"I had already assumed a gun was a given, Denny. But yes, a fishing vest too, if you must. I don't have to wear one, do I?"
"You don't have to wear anything." The hand that held Alan's against his stomach pushed them lower, and Denny wiggled his eyebrows.
"You know I always wear something."
"I know. We should talk about that. But speaking of wearing things, you know, this woman in my dream, this . . . Bonnie. She was the bright spot, until she opened her mouth. I think if I were an attractive woman, I'd probably dress kind of like her. Everything was skin tight and her chest was pushed up really high, lots of skin. I mean, why not flaunt it, right?"
Alan brushed his thumb over the back of Denny's hand. "Yes, but there is something to be said for a little subtlety. I think, if I were an attractive woman—"
"You wouldn't dress like that. You'd be demure and mysterious, and a terrible tease."
Alan smiled. "Would I? Not easy?"
"Not as a woman. And you'd wear a teddy underneath with a snap crotch so you wouldn't have to get completely naked."
Alan laughed. "You may be right." He eyed Denny then. "You're sure you're okay?"
"I'm sure. And I've got you around to smack me in the face if I have that nightmare again, right?" They started walking back toward the building, still hand in hand. "Don't let me get sucked back into that hellhole if you can help it. Wake me up at the first sign of anything. I'm telling you Alan, if I start to squirm or make sounds, even just a little—"
"I'll congratulate myself for doing a good job?"
Denny laughed, then his hand found a particularly sensitive spot to pat to give Alan an answer in the affirmative.
Alan smiled, his eyebrows arching. "Denny Crane."