Ad-lib Story: Missing Cards

Inspire by Mad Libs, I have a writing exercise where I ask others to provide certain things and then create a story based off what people suggest. I asked Twitter for: a means of transportation; an animal; a weapon that doesn’t shoot bullets; an article of clothing; a profession; and a food so bad you wouldn’t feed it to you worst enemy. I got a ton of suggestions, so the next several posts are going to be the stories created from this exercise. Hope you enjoy them!

I check over my suitcase one last time before closing and locking the lid.

“Did you remember to pack your toothbrush this time?” Maggie calls from downstairs.

Damn. I dash to the bathroom, return with my toothbrush, and throw it into the case. Ok – now I’m ready. I carry the bag down to the foyer and root around in the back of the coat closet to find my peacoat. It’s a bit raggedy, but still keeps the chill out of my bones.

Maggie emerges from the kitchen, drying her hands on a dish towel. She wrinkles her nose when she sees my coat. “What is it with you and that relic from your college days? I thought I burned that old thing.”

“This is an excellent coat,” I reply. “They don’t make ‘em like this any more.”

“Now you sound old,” she laughs. “This time next year you’ll be sitting on the porch and yelling at kids to stay off the lawn.”

The phone rings and we both freeze. We both know what is on the other end of the line.

“Speaking of relics from college…” Maggie mutters.“Don’t answer it.”

“I have to answer it.”

“No, you don’t. You have to get in the car, go to the airport and fly 4,000 miles to an invitation-only symposium with the greatest living mathematicians in the world. Don’t answer it.”

“I’ll catch the next flight if I miss this one.” I reach for the phone while she rolls her eyes. The police officer on the other end asks if I know a Joseph Rosino and would I mind coming to the station? I tell him I’m on my way and look back at Maggie as I hang up. “I can’t just abandon Joey, Mags.”

“You’re a good man, Adam.” She steps close, kisses my cheek and straightens my collar. “A good friend. But he’s taking advantage of you. Don’t let him drag you down.”

I give her a smile, assure her I’ll be fine, and carry my suitcase out to the car. I wave goodbye as I pull out of the driveway. I didn’t have the guts to tell her the call came from Sinclair: two counties in the opposite direction from the airport, and as a result there’s was no way I’ll be flying to Amsterdam today.

Maggie’s not the only one who thinks I should drop Joey. Pretty much everyone in my life views him as a charity case — a washed-out buddy from college I can’t bring myself to cut off. Joey is a good guy, but most people agree he’s a few cards short of a full deck. I’m pretty sure he’s missing the eight of clubs, king of spades, and a couple of diamonds.

This makes him a great source for dinner party stories. Everyone loves the one about when Joey got drunk, broke into the rail museum, and tried to hot wire a steam engine. Security guards found him yelling about how he was going to wizard school.

Then there was the time he got it in his head he wanted to pet a giraffe. The local zoo had been advertising a Meet the Animals event and even built a special platform for guests to come face-to-face with the giraffes. But Joey didn’t want to buy the tickets and wait in line, so instead he tried to sneak into the enclosure. Somehow he got himself locked in a utility closet for a weekend with nothing to eat but rancid peaches.

I refused to pay bail on that one until after the peaches were out of his system.

But the one Joey story I don’t tell anyone is the reason I will always be there for him when he needs me.

You see, there was a time back in college when I started to think like everyone else. Joey and I had a good few years hanging out and getting high together, but I was ready to settle down and really start working on my degree. Joey… not so much, and his partying was starting to hurt my grades. So I decided to do the reasonable thing — the prudent thing — and end our friendship.

That was the fall we were working at a local renaissance fair to make some extra money. Basically we camped in a field behind the fair for a few weekends and spent our Saturdays and Sundays walking around wearing tabards while changing out the trash bags. At night we’d hang out with the other workers.

Joey knew something was up when I showed up Friday night with my own tent instead of sharing one with him. I told him Saturday morning before we started work that I couldn’t hang out with him any more.

His face grew red and he looked like he was about to cry, but instead he just nodded. “I understand,” he said finally. “Gotta do what’s best for you. What kinda friend would I be if I tried to bring you down, right?” He grabbed his tabard and head out into the fair.

I spent the day alone with the garbage, telling myself Joey would be fine. Heck, maybe this would be the wake-up call he needed to straighten his life out. Maybe I’d be the reason he’d go from barely passing General Studies to become a world-class physicist.

My denial game was strong in college.

Joey’s tent was gone by the time the fair closed and I returned to the camp. I told myself it was for the best. I ended up hanging out at the campfire with one of the girls who roams around selling flowers — her name was Mandy or Brandy, or Candy — something like that. It got late and we decided to head back to my tent. We here halfway there when we heard the screaming.

We heard later that the man was a patron who had gotten drunk and passed out in the porta-potties. He came to after the fair closed, was still drunk, and had broken into the storage trailer for the archery act. All we knew at the time was that some man was rampaging through the camp with a longbow. Mandy/Candy/Brandy and I ran for my tent and she scrambled inside but the drunk came charging up before I could hide.

The man said something, but all I could hear was the pounding of my heart and the rush of blood in my ears. My eyes were locked on the three-foot arrow he had aimed at my chest. I heard another scream and a skinny T-shirt clad blur slammed into the man just as he loosed the arrow. I felt a yank on my coat sleeve as the arrow flew past.

Security was on the drunk in a flash, binding him with zip ties and hauling him away as blue and red police lights cut through the dark fair grounds. Joey remained, sitting on the ground, holding a wadded cloth to his arm. One of the volunteer medics dashed up with a first aid kit the size of Kentucky and began patching up the cut on his arm.

“Why’d you do it, Joey?” I sat in the dirt in front of him. “You could have been killed.”

He flashed me one of his easy-going smiles. “Man, I understand you can’t be my friend any more. But that doesn’t mean I can’t still be your friend. What kinda person lets their friend get shot when he’s got a babe waiting for him in his tent?”

I pull into the police station parking lot. My fingers go to the patched up hole in my coat sleeve. Sure, Joey may be missing some spades, clubs, and diamonds, but he’s all heart. Truth is, I’m not his friend out of pity or nostalgia. I’m his friend because he will not stop being mine — and I hope to someday be worthy of that friendship.

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