Nate glanced up at the stucco ceiling, his eyes tracing the thin cracks from their base of origin - the lamp - to their final resting-places along the walls. It was strange, he considered, how a simple ceiling lamp and its branching cracks were so much like life, like the common birth of all individuals into the world and the various degrees of their development until they die.
For a minute Nate sat perfectly still, studying the small ruin of his old home, before returning to his book to read the next paragraph:
"We're like actors, turned loose in this world to wander in search of a phantom, endlessly searching for a half formed shadow of our lost reality. When others
demand that we become the people they want us to be, they force us to destroy
the person we really are. It's a subtle kind of murder." - Jim Morrison
Nate grinned to himself at Jim’s small error. The point of existence was not to remove the mask, he realized, but to see it and to know it, because by knowing it, we know ourselves. The mask was always strongest in the weakest areas of the soul, that way we achieved a sort of external perfection.
An abrupt banging at the door suddenly jolted Nate from his thoughts, and placing his book on his desk, he stood up to stretch before answering it. Although he wasn't in the mood for visitors, he was even less tolerant of their knocking, so he hoped to silence the irksome noise and dispatch the visitor promptly.
Racing down the corridor to the main exit, Nate swung open the door. "Yeah," he murmured automatically, but then stepped back in surprise. It was Julian, and he was wearing blue-jeans and a t-shirt.
"Hey," Jules muttered under his breath, glancing around with the kind of paranoia one usually saw in a crack addict. "Can I come in?"
Nate opened his mouth to respond but before he could utter a single phrase Julian rushed inside and spun around to face his friend.
"Shut the door! Shut the door!" he screamed as if is life depended upon it.
Nate knew it was not unusual for Jules to overreact, but just in case he slammed the door. "Julian, have you been in the household cleaners again?" he asked as he instinctually retreated to the sanctuary of his study
"You know I don't do that!" his visitor protested as he gazed around the room. "It can kill you and besides, it’s a cheap way to get high. It's just that you live in a really bad neighborhood. There were hoodlums on the corner."
Nate chucked to himself at his visitor’s naivety. Jules was always good for a drug-free trip. "I live in the suburbs and those are teenagers. How'd you find me anyway? More of your connections?"
"I used the phonebook for your information," Jules snapped defensively. "I'm fully capable of perusing the residential listings."
Nate smiled. "Ok, why are you here then?"
Suddenly Julian became nervous. "I came here to beg for my life."
At this Nate's jaw dropped. Undoubtedly Julian had been inhaling pharmaceuticals because he sounded like a stark, raving lunatic.
"I'm sorry, I…I must be missing some crucial point here because I don't see how I can help you," he said at last.
"You're going to kill me, aren't you?"
Julian's wide-eyed stare almost made Nate feel sorry for whatever Julian thought he was going to do. The poor lad was scared out of his mind.
"I'm not going to kill you," Nate assured him. "I don't understand why you're under the impression that I am, but I'm not. Now, let me show you the lovely hallway that leads to the outside door…"
"Then I need your help."
Nate sighed heavily. It was clear his visitor wasn't going to leave.
"Alright. What can I do for you?" he asked.
"Ana hates me,” Julian replied, folding his arms in front of him as he mimicked a pout.
"She doesn't hate you…"
"Yes she does. I went to her apartment to sing an apology to the theme of 'Green Acres' and she slammed the door in my face."
"That was probably smart," Nate remarked. "I'll talk to her."
"Yes, really," answered Nate. "It's not your fault you're cerebrally flatulent. She should have pity on you - everyone should have pity on you."
"Pity, yes, pity. That's it! Thank-you! Thank-you! Thank-you!" Julian cheered, and for a moment it looked as if he were about to embrace Nate, but then he backed off.
After what appeared to be an infinite period of silence to Nate but was only a matter of seconds to Julian, Julian spoke. "Well. That's that."
"Yes, that is that," Nate responded, as he realized Julian was not getting the picture. "Have you seen my hallway by the way? Have I asked you that yet?"
"Yes, once. I've seen it."
"Great. Do you want to see it again?"
"On my way out, yes."
"Will you be leaving anytime soon? Do you want a bottled water to take with you?"
"I kinda figured that," Nate muttered under his breath.
"So…you like Morrison I presume?" Jules asked, gazing down at several books that lay on Nate's desk. Meandering over to the table, he commenced scanning them one at a time.
"I've read "Wilderness". It contains his lost writings…"
Nate stared at Julian in disbelief. This flamboyant cult-of-personality had suddenly become very interesting.
"You've read Morrison."
"And you understand Morrison/?” Nate asked, still shocked from Julian’s’ prior statement.
“For the most part.”
Nate glared at Julian. "Where is Julian and what have you done with him?" he said finally.
“Hah, Hah. Very funny,” replied Julian sarcastically, turning now to address his host.
“Why haven’t you said anything about this before?” Nate inquired.
“You never asked.”
Nate studied his visitor for moment. "Why the secrecy then, Julian? One moment you're dressed in saran wrap flirting with the Prince of Wales and the next you're telling me you've read a book that has nothing to do with make-up or shoes. Have you gone insane?"
"No!" Julian answered defensively. "I’m not an imbecile for God's sake, it's just that I have my priorities in order."
"I question what you consider priorities," Nate muttered under his breath.
"Nate, do you know what would happen to me if anyone knew that I read?" Julian whispered.
"You'd get respect?"
"No. "They'd make fun of me. I would never hear the end of it: 'Julian reads, can you believe that?', and they'd point and laugh and stick books in my coat pockets and calculators in my shirts and call me 'nerd'. I would be the talk of all the social circles. I'd never be able to appear in public again."
Nate smirked. "Don't you think you're exaggerating some?"
"No," Julian snipped. "You have no clue how the fashion world is. I have a reputation to protect."