Fiction: The Proxy Puppet Show by Brian Joseph Johns


This one is a bit more involved than My Secret Place and grapples with some issues of which more of us should be aware.

The Proxy Puppet Show

The Coming Of Age

He had just turned nineteen. Yes, that nineteen. The one that sent most young adults in the case they'd not earlier procured their driver's license, to the Government office that issued identity cards. Especially those identity cards legally recognized by liquor-licensed establishments. Imbuing any fledgling adult with a new super-power.

The power of intoxication.

The process involved the filling out of an application and a short wait in line before handing said application to a clerk, who verified its completeness. After that point, there would only be a wait of three to six weeks before such a young adult would eventually receive an envelope containing a nice, shiny, glossy, picture card denoting that the recipient had achieved the age of majority and the right to consume alcoholic beverages. A milestone in the historic journey to adulthood.

From there, the celebration would begin because for most, the arrival at that age far overshadowed one's arrival at the voting age, which was currently eighteen in Canada.

Upon arriving at the age of eighteen, there was little fun or fanfare despite the fact that it had taken nearly six thousand years of progress to procure the right to vote. Six thousand five hundred in the case of women. Yet somehow the focus had fallen squarely into the lap of the age of majority rather than the age in which a citizen has the right to choose the destiny of their country in an election by way of their vote and the rule of representation. In fact, the voting age parties were few and far between.

This certainly was not the fault of the Armed Forces, for their rule is if you're old enough to carry a rifle and fight for your country (and possibly die), you're old enough to drink and possibly find your way towards other mischiefs in the spirit of the survived. Yet if you're willing to die for the virtues which your country stands by way of Constitution, Charter or Statute you still lack the right to vote. These were the very same thoughts on Seth's mind for he'd days earlier received his identity card. On this very day, he'd turned nineteen.

Peter had arrived at the age of majority seven months prior. Sean, three months earlier while Danver and Penelope had both arrived there two years prior to this evening which was, in fact, Seth's nineteenth birthday party.

The first round, which he'd ordered himself arrived and the table was quickly lined by tankards, doled out by an attractive (and apparently quite strong) barmaid.

"Thank you, honey. I'm impressed." Seth nodded to her.

"My name is Angie." she smiled at him drawing murmurs from around the table.

"You carried the entire order. In one arm. Are you an athlete?" Peter asked her trying to get in on her glowing charm.

"Just a lot of work... and yoga," Angie replied quickly wiping dry a section of their table.
"...and play I'd bet." Sean's eyebrows jumped a few times to accent the innuendo as she returned to the bar with the tray.

"Here, here! I say we get a toast from the birthday boy! It's only fair." Danver reminded Seth of his obligations.

"I'll second that motion." Penelope pulled her tankard closer.

Seth blushed slightly as he eyed his ale.

"I was hopin' nobody would notice... but alright. Here goes." Seth spoke as he stood drawing a bit of attention from the other patrons of the pub.

As he stood, he smiled leaning forward, his hands on the table. A member of the debating team he'd learned every tactic for the delivery of a public oration.

"Here I stand today. With my friends. My colleagues. My partners in the party and rejoice on this occasion. That is, of course, the occasion of my arrival at the age of consumption. Some of you obviously having preceded me by a long shot in this avenue. For some of you, it shows a little more than others... ahem. I won't mention any names but his initials are Danver Johnson." Seth began, drawing a bit of laughter from the table.

"No. Seriously I'd like to address something that concerns me. You all know of my plans to become... notable in my future. That may lead to many different paths but something I'm going to change for certain is the fact that turning nineteen is a bigger party than becoming old enough to vote. So tonight, we're going to celebrate both as friends. Colleagues. Peers. Drunks. I can promise you this, that before I leave this world, the voting age and the drinking age will be synchronized. The right to vote will be just as big a deal as the right to drink." Seth lifted his hands and brought them down hard upon the table.

His friends stood, cheering him on as did many of the patrons in the bar. Peter sat with a half-smirk on his face perhaps insulted but still of a good demeanour and admiration for his friend. Peter's face, however, did flush from the stress as Peter's parents were members of a religious sect that prevented them from participating in a vote. An from which he'd been trying to distance himself for a long time. An issue which had divided his family, sending him in one direction and his parents in another. In fact, Peter had earned a scholarship which he would not turn down despite his parent's best efforts to convince him of otherwise. He'd found an apartment and even worked parttime to shore up the differences of what he received from his scholarship bursary. For any other student, this would have seemed trivial but without the help of his parents, it was an uphill battle and a stone of contention in his family with whom he'd not spoken in a year.

Peter's eyes crossed Seth's and for a moment there was a tension between them. A tension quickly broken as a smile slowly grew across Seth's face. Seth picked up his tankard and raised it high.

"It is to this my friends that I wish to have my first toast and legal drink. Here's to the vote! We're none to gloat. So pick up your beer and empty it here!" Seth pointed to his mouth as he quickly consumed the entire tankard, placing it empty upon the table.

"Oh. ...And nobody here is going to drive tonight. I want all my friends with me tomorrow as much as I do tonight." Seth burped drawing a round of uproarious laughter from the table.

The others stood and followed his toast, with Penelope and Danver even racing each other to the bottom. Penelope won much to Danver's amusement. He'd known she would for they'd been serious for a year and a half. He knew her in ways that few did and none likely ever would. The case was certainly the same for Penelope as they'd been friends since childhood. In fact, she'd secretly harboured a crush for Danver since they were eight years old. At that time she'd expressed her affection by occasionally punching his shoulder or pushing him to the ground before running away screaming and laughing. 

Penelope and Danver took their seats. Danver flagged Angie for it was his turn to do the resupply run for the table. They'd be taking turns for the whole night and Danver suspected that it might be a long night. Especially once the dinner crowd had left and the music had started. They'd all brought their darts and were ready for some stiff competition. Not to mention that there were still other late comers to arrive.

When the next round arrived, Seth pulled his chair closer to Peter's and began a slightly pointed conversation.

"I take it that stung a bit?" Seth asked Peter.

"A bit? That was right in the tender zone. You should have known that." Peter responded cordially but still a little sore from Seth's speech.

"Well, you know how it is in the world. You're either on one side or the other." Seth said confidently clapping a hand down on the shoulder of Peter's black shirt.

"Or on neither. Some of us don't want to think too hard about that stuff." Peter replied.

"Now that sounds like your parents," Seth responded to Peter before turning to Angie to thank her for the fresh round.

"No, it doesn't. I just don't want to get in the middle of this. There are some decisions in life that should be made for us." Peter responded.

"Like?" Seth seemed intensely interested suddenly.

"Whether we should vote or not. I mean it would take a lot of the division away in families like mine. I mean I might still have parents if this were the case. They'd be obligated by law. Their argument would be with the Government, not me." Peter took a swig of his beer.

"Sounds a little Hitler-esque to me to make people vote. Encouraging it certainly helps but mandatory voting? Nahhh. Besides, don't you feel proud that you're starting a new path for your family? Dropping antiquated traditions in favour of an optimistic future and due process?" Seth smiled giving a bit more charisma to his suggestion.

Peter knew him too well to be fooled.

"You know, you sound a lot like Huxley," Peter commented.

"Just as long as you don't go and kill yourself for being too freaked out about the pace of change in the new world," Seth clanked tankards with Peter.

"I thought John the savage hung himself because he couldn't get over the guilt of giving in to his sexual desires?" Peter recalled for Seth.

"Yeah well, we all get something different from what we read. Don't we? I was just making sure you're alright," Seth asked Peter.

"Yeah, Seth. I'm alright," Peter responded drably.

"Well that's a matter of opinion, isn't it?" Seth joked.

"Sorry, but how I should feel isn't decided by democratic choice. It's a dictatorship all the way and I'm the despot of myself." Peter replied.

"That you are. Just remember that when you're worshipping the porcelain god tomorrow morning." Seth mired his words, rinsing them down with a fresh mouthful of ale.

"I'd be willing to wager that you'll be licking tile long before I am." Peter challenged Seth.

"We'll just have to see... wait a second. We have some new arrivals here. Watch this and learn." Seth picked up his tankard and left Peter in pursuit of the new arrivals.

His eyes were firmly fixed upon Jeannie Taylor, a twenty one year old sophomore of U of T. She'd been a member of their local padre: friends, miscreant students and artful dodgers from Seth's former high school.

With reddish blonde hair and finely sculpted thin red lips, she appeared as if she'd just stepped off a runway. Both the kind graced by models and aircraft readying for liftoff. For those who didn't know her she was often regarded and sexually objectified at times for her body alone though she had so much more to offer. She was majoring in the Media Studies program from which she'd hoped later to pursue a Doctorate in Sociology perhaps moulding herself much the same as Marshall Mcluhan, one of her heroes. Her belief was that Sociology would eventually become the major anchor point for a new field of study based around psychology, sociology and social media. Being a confident, motivated and apt girl she'd positioned herself to achieve this goal from the point she'd grasped the power of the internet back in 2010.

With all of these compelling features it was destiny that Seth would first see her three years earlier. From their meeting moment he'd become addicted to her for both her mind and her appetite for meaningful conversation. To Seth the fact that she was also drop dead gorgeous was just icing on the cake.

As he passed Angie, the waitress for his table he grabbed a full tankard from the tray she'd been carrying to another table. When she saw that it was Seth, she nodded indicating that she understood and would put the tankard on his bill.

Jeannie after having stepped into the bar had taken notice of one of the senior students from the University to whom she turned to greet.

This is too perfect Seth thought immediately recognizing the opportunity that had presented itself. He continued his approach.

"Here's your drink honey." Seth handed her the full tankard to which he'd added a wedge of lime from Angie's tray.

Jeannie smiled upon seeing Seth and turned to him, opening her arms and wrapping herself around the birthday boy.

"Thank you so much. Happy Birthday!" she spoke into his ear sending tingles down his spine as he felt her pressed against his own chest.

"Thank you..." he went to kiss her on her cheek and she turned to make sure that she caught the kiss upon her lips.

Seth, always savouring pursuit kept the kiss to a little more than just a peck before speaking.

"I'm so glad that you could make it. By the way, am I interrupting?" he added turning to Jeannie's company, the senior student.

"Not at all. Johnathan Hayes." the senior's hand shot out and Seth caught it like a pro.

"Seth Sylvian. Nice to meet you." Seth replied cordially.

"So you're the birthday boy. Happy Birthday." Johnathan said with a hint of condescension.

"Thank you. Look... we have a table over here if you'd like to join us you're more than welcome...?" Seth didn't miss a beat, already half way to leading Jeannie towards his end of the pub.

"I'll come over in a bit. I've got some catching up to do here. Good to see you Jeannie." Johnathan smiled and nodded to them as they left for Seth's table.

"I'm impressed. You even remembered the twist of lime." Jeannie continued their conversation as they made their way through the pub.

"Yeah. It looks good too. I might try it for my next one. So you're one of the early-late arrivals. The first one in fact. I hope you brought your intellect with you." Seth said letting her step in front of him as he admired her thoroughly from behind.

"I was hoping to leave it at home, but if you'd prefer I could go back and get it?" she said turning around before they'd arrived at the table.

"Naahhhh... that's quite alright. I'd rather you stayed. I think we can handle the three hundred IQ you rather than the six hundred one." Seth assured her.

"I take it you mean imbibed quarts?" she shot back at him.

"Are you kidding? We're metric here. It means ingredients quaffed." Seth smiled back at her.

Peter stood up upon seeing Jeannie and all at once he understood Seth's quick departure.

"Jeannie! How are you? Good to see you!" Peter offered her his hand, testing the ground first.

She accepted it, leaning forward to kiss him on the cheek.

"How's school?" she asked him.

"You know I'm sure. Its amazing how quick the pressure can accumulate. Its November and I'm already freaking out with these assignments. How's your second year going?" Peter asked her.

"You know. Pretty much the same. Thankfully I'm just barely keeping up. How's Manx?" Jeannie asked Peter about his pet Parakeet.

"Manx is... well, Manx is Manx. She's healthy. Good company when I'm doing homework. You know the drill. How's Missie?" Peter replied still a bit sore from Seth's speech.

"Missie's good. She just had her tubes tied so I suspect it will be a month before I can let her outside. Assuming its not too cold by then." Jeannie answered, leaning slightly as Penelope and Danver stood to greet her.

"Penny!" Jeannie screamed taking baby steps towards Penelope's embrace.

"Jeannie!" Penelope hugged her best friend.

"Somebody get a camera, this is getting hot!" Danver commented, miming a photo-shoot of the two of them wrapped.

"Danver! You're still as naughty I see. Get over here!" Jeannie and Penelope made an opening for him.

"Do I have to?" Danver said sarcastically as he jumped into their group hug without hesitation.

Jeannie really loved being around Penelope and Danver. They kept her grounded and earthy especially when life became too complicated for a keen intellect like hers. Getting back to the basics was an essential ritual in her weekly regimen. Both Penelope and Danver were staples of that necessity. Something which she shared in common with Seth though she alone seemed consciously aware of that fact. In fact, she'd been aware of many aspects about her own mind and being and its dependence upon the social apparatus of society. In fact, she seemed to purposefully embrace it while Seth tried to purposely deceive it. Jeannie alone understood the oneness that both she and Seth felt with Penelope and Danver. Their friends. A couple with whom they did not have to resort to pretension in order to endure the social survival that so many sold themselves out just to achieve. The ever present illusion of being in control of one's own life.

From her perspective, everyone else was the audience, and without them, there was no show. An interdependence from which Seth struggled to keep himself. Tonight however, he would have to take on that very aspect of himself in order to survive at all.

Another Page

"What do you say that we get this party started?" Seth suggested to Jeannie as they stood beside their group's table.

"That sounds like a great idea. How do you propose that we do that?" Jeannie asked Seth, leaning in a little closer to him perhaps purposely.

"Well I happen to know the DJ. You see, he's a close friend of my sister's boyfriend. I'd be willing to bet that you could charm him into starting the music fifteen minutes early. That would be in two minutes from now. Once that's happening, I'd be willing to bet that we could convince some of our early arrivals to participate in a drinking game?" Seth suggested.

"And that would lend itself to a party how?" Jeannie asked him somewhat skeptically.

"Well for one, it would provide for our later amusement." Seth insinuated, attempting to be humorous.

"So you're for amusement at someone else's expense, are you?" Jeannie confirmed of Seth.

"Why not? Its all in good fun." Seth stood his ground.

"Alright. I'll commit to the first part of your plan. Once the music has started I'm assuming you'll take action for the next part." Jeannie confirmed with him again.

"Deal. I'll be waiting for the music to start." Seth agreed.

With that agreement between them, Jeannie then proceeded to strut her stuff all the way to the DJ booth. The man behind the console pretended not to notice her, though he'd caught glimpse of her through his peripheral vision and admired her for as much for what he couldn't see. She was clearly a very confident and classy lady.

She leaned into the DJ booth and waved at him. He pretended not to notice her immediately and then turned to see her with both eyes. He was pleasantly surprised to see that what he hadn't seen of her through his peripheral vision was just as enticing. From that moment he was on board.

Seth waltzed over to the bar and paused a moment glancing around the room as he leaned against the brass sealed fine oak counter top.

Johnathan Hayes, Jeannie's friend approached him at the bar.

"We meet again... Seth is it?" Johnathan raised an eyebrow.

"Correct. Johnathan?" Seth checked with the taller man.

"Correct. Birthday boy right?" Johnathan asked him.

"Yes. Legally so on this very day as well. Fortunate that it coincided with the Saturday of a long weekend, though most of us don't need a good reason to party on a long weekend." Seth observed.

"So true. Well Happy Birthday anyway." Johnathan stepped in a bit closer to Seth, making him slightly uncomfortable.

That's when the music pierced the bar's mounting crowd laying waste to the white noise of mass conversation. The DJ had started with Veruca Salt's Volcano Girls, one of Jeannie's favourites and certainly a good choice to get the party going.

Seth immediately spied her moving her hips to the beat, her hands in the air deep in the ancient ritual of dance. He admired her from afar for a moment unaware that had been of her intent.

"Sorry Johnathan, that's my cue." Seth nodded politely to the taller male and turned to the bar tender.

"That's alright. I'm sure that we can talk later. Maybe get to know one another better. Toodle-loo for now." Johnathan waved to Seth as he vacated the bar area leaving Seth within his own breathing space once again.

Seth smiled politely though still slightly uncomfortable. He then turned to the bartender for whose attention he vied. A moment later and the shots were on their way. In fact by the time Seth had arrived at the table Angie had arrived with a full tray. Two racks of alcohol shots which Angie placed gingerly on the table.

On a piece of cardboard, Seth had written the phrase:

Leave your car keys with the bar
Blow over and you've no car

Take a shot - Leave a shot
Your choice what kind

Seth the birthday boy

The bar had their own breathalyzer and had designed a contract that drivers could sign that would protect their keys for them which they could retrieve later that night so long as they blew under the legal limit. They'd of course have to show the correct identification with which they'd used to check in their keys. It worked much like a coat check.

The program had been a great success so far and Seth thought that it would be a responsible thing to encourage his friends taking part in this party to use that service. If any of the patrons couldn't get their keys, the bar would make sure they got home in a cab and pay for it via a prearranged method provided by the customer. If the customer couldn't pay for the cab, the bar would cover the costs and require the customer to pay when they picked up their keys. As a result there had been fewer drinking related charges filed against patrons of the bar not to mention the possible lives saved by enforcing such a rule.

In this way, it allowed for all kinds of drinking games such as this one invented by Seth, take a shot - leave a shot. He'd paid for all twelve shots himself up front. The least he could do for his birthday guests. That way there would always be twelve shots at their table not to mention the fact that none of the shots were labeled, so you didn't know what you were getting into. Once you'd downed a shot, you could pick any shot to replace it.

Beside the shot racks were bottomless water pitchers that one could use to re-hydrate themselves. They would be refilled throughout the night by Angie so as to reduce the possibility of any alcohol consumption related sickness or poisoning. The logic again was that if you drank water, that's less room for the alcohol and seeing as the human body rids itself of alcohol through the lungs via water vapour, it kept the party goers hydrated, healthy and happy.

Seth may have been a bit of a player and control freak, but he was always protective and responsible in keeping his friends safe. One of the reasons why he'd earned such loyal friendships though by the end of the night Seth was sure to understand loyalty in a much different way than he had prior.

In his eyes the best plans were laid by leaders. Solitary persons whom saw the entirety of the greater picture and whom were able to micro and macro manage the details so as to maximize the benefit while minimizing the detriment. One mind. One plan. The work to achieve it was doled out to those who'd envisioned it or as is most often the case, a single entrepreneur who grows their dream to fruition and great value to the economy.

Jeannie however intended to change all of that tonight. To make him question who was really running the show.

The Dance Stage

Michelle had just arrived with Nikki, who was a good friend of Penelope. To Seth's circle of friends, Michelle was a newcomer. She'd only known Nikki for a year prior to agreeing to accompany her to this birthday party. In that time she'd only met Penelope once, as Nikki actually was a bridge between two different groups of friends with which Michelle was more familiar with Nikki's group rather than Penelope's. Michelle had remembered seeing Seth once through another mutual gathering if not for more than two minutes and during that time she'd found him to be a handsome and confident man. Aspects she'd envisioned of her ideal lover though she was still very hesitant about hitching up with anyone.

In fact she'd drawn quite a bit of negative attention from some of her school peers for this. For not having hooked up with someone. In some cases they'd goaded her for being single and in others they'd applauded her independence. Either way she'd never picked up on the fact that they had been manipulating her the whole time. A punishment and reward system paid through a social context and peer pressure. Praise for one set of approved behaviors and punishment by way of dissociation for disproved behaviors. On this night she'd come mostly on the draw of positive conditioning as if the group were trying to cajole her. Guide her on their path.

She was not particularly religious but if she was, she might have suspected that a God or Deity of some kind was trying to lead her on a chosen path and likely would have given up her freewill almost altogether on the faith of divine intervention. This certainly was not the case though the group wouldn't put it above themselves to impostor such an identity and origin. People would interpret what they did in many ways. Of those who'd become aware of this interference, some thought it to be synchronicity in action, yet others believed it to be God. Few had questioned the nature of such manipulation because few could ever grasp the idea that so many people would form together and coordinate to establish such an illusion. To pull the wool over the eyes of even the most astute observer. To them, Michelle was just another puppet and she too would play her role on this night.

Nikki and Michelle had arrived at the table, greeting Penelope and Danver, both of whom appeared to be enjoying themselves. Beside them, Peter sat alone playing with his drink as he uncomfortably attempted to catch up with everyone else in the consumption department. Michelle had approached Penelope for introduction though Penelope spoke first.

"Well don't you look like a nice couple" Penelope commented to Michelle who suddenly found herself uncomfortable at the insinuation.

"If you're referring to Nikki and I, we're not couple. She's my friend." Michelle responded awkwardly.

"You don't have to be embarrassed about anything with us. We accept you regardless." Penelope assured Michelle who was still a bit taken back.

"Michelle... you don't have to be shy around my friends. They won't judge us. You know Penelope from Richie's party last year." Nikki said grabbing Michelle's arm and pulling her close.

Michelle resisted, withdrawing her arm from Nikki's grasp, suddenly very uncomfortable with her friend's attitude shift and behavior.

It was Danver that came to her rescue:

"Have you met Peter?" he asked her.

"No. I haven't. Nice to meet you Peter, I'm Michelle." she stated with sudden interest in him.

"Hi Michelle. Good to meet you." he stood for Michelle and she pulled up a chair and sat beside him in order to secure her independence from Nikki not realizing that she'd been played by both Penelope and Nikki.

Jeannie watched from her perch on the dance floor as the scene unfolded and the plan had begun.

Seth had made his way from the table back towards the dance floor. There he watched Jeannie from a safe distance, hidden within a small crowd. It was then that Johnathan Hayes stepped out to the dance floor and found his way to Jeannie, joining her in the sway of rhythm. Seth felt himself clenching his fists as he experienced jealousy for the first time in a while. The last time he'd felt jealous actually had nothing to do with women at all. It was about the fact that he'd lost the school debate to one of the square jawed jocks, amongst which he did not number himself. He'd felt secure in his belief that what he lacked in athletics he could more than make up for in debating. When he'd lost to the school's volley ball team captain, he'd become sick with jealousy that stayed with him for days, even weeks. He'd remembered the feeling of stomach ulcers and heart burn. The feeling of being stressed both day and night. Like every day he'd been in that state was three weeks of his life gone by. Like he'd lost a great deal of time more so than he'd experienced. Something he was experiencing as he watched Johnathan dance with his spark. Jeannie.

On the dance floor Johnathan and Jeannie built up steam and tension between one another and the air became thick around and sweet between them. Jeannie could feel the tension growing. She could feel Seth's life ebbing from him in the pain of seeing her with another man. By that feeling she knew that she'd gained full control of his puppet strings. He was now her toy and a toy she intended to play with on this night.

Seth meanwhile had turned his view away from the scene of their dance and was now focusing on the two who'd just arrived, Michelle and Nikki.

"Did they come together?" Seth asked himself, suddenly feeling a sense of isolation though ignoring the fact that his choice to stray from his perch over Jeannie was not in fact his own choice at all.

He watched Michelle carefully as she sat beside Peter, the two of them in the midst of a seemingly unconnected chat. He looked for body language from Michelle's person and checked it against Peter's and found that there were no real sparks between them. Perhaps Peter was still deep in thought about the plight of his family and the loss of a common ground with his parents. Michelle on the other hand seemed preoccupied herself, dodging unseen social poltergeists intent on getting the better of her. She momentarily looked over and caught Seth looking at her. She blushed invisibly in the pub's darkening atmosphere.

"That was fun! I haven't had a dance like that before." Jeannie said thanking Johnathan who accompanied her to Seth's place of vigil.

"My pleasure." Johnathan smiled at Jeannie and winked at Seth.

Seth suddenly felt himself a little uncomfortable.

"What's a matter there birthday boy?" Jeannie poked his shoulder as Johnathan made his way to the bar to fetch them a fresh round.

"Well... I kind of thought that you were here with me?" Seth carefully suggested turning his attention away from Michelle.

"I'm sorry. Did I give you that impression?" Jeannie asked Seth innocently.

"Well. Maybe. I mean you did come with me when I..." Seth struggled to find purchase of a sound justification for his prior suggestion.

"...when you interrupted Johnathan and I?" Jeannie finished his statement.

"I didn't interrupt. I strategically inserted myself into your conversation." Seth fell back on his sense of wit.

"I've never heard interruption put that way before, but OK. So you did. And I accompanied you back to your table politely. I fail to see where in that equation I became your possession?" Jeannie confronted him suddenly.

"I didn't say you were my possession or even mine. I just..." Seth suddenly found it difficult trying to match wit with hers.

"You just assumed that because I came with you to the table that I was with you for the night." Jeannie said bluntly.

"Right." Seth nodded unphased.

"I'm sorry, but I don't give guarantees like that." Jeannie replied suddenly turning to Johnathan who'd returned with three drinks.

"Here you go Seth, happy birthday! And one for you." Johnathan handed Seth his drink and then gave one to Jeannie, keeping the last for a quick sip.

"Thank you, Johnathan." Jeannie stepped up on her tip toes as Johnathan lowered his face for a kiss.

Fortunately for Seth it was a quick kiss, though tender nonetheless, making Seth want her all the more. Once again Seth missed the fact that it wasn't him that was really doing the thinking where it concerned his words, actions and motivations. He simply wanted her because he suddenly realized that he couldn't have her.

Jeannie and Johnathan departed towards their own little intimate booth where they kept vigil of Seth and the table. Seth shrugged uneasily and took a swig of his pint. He then made his way back to the table where he sat beside Michelle who was still speaking with Peter.

Jeannie and Johnathan watched from the distance as their plan unfolded.

The Ever Visible Illusion

"So how goes your birthday?" Michelle had finished speaking and Peter politely turned to address his returned friend.

"Its going. I'm still working on a pint. My third so far. Keeping a slow pace so I can last the night. What about you two?" Seth saw his give a shot, take a shot display and looked carefully over the selection.

"Well I just found out that Peter is interested in Business Management, something I know absolutely nothing of." Michelle turned to Seth taking a sip of her drink.

"I found out that Michelle feels uncomfortable around Nikki sometimes but really loves Penelope and Danver. Not only that, but she had her nails done today. Check this out Seth, she has little Anime characters engraved onto her nails. How cool is that!" Peter urged Michelle to show Seth.

She shied momentarily and then gave in, laying her hands palm down on the table for them to admire.

Seth leaned in close and spied a different Anime character on each of her nails. They weren't hand painted but rather quality images lacquered in place and very impressive nonetheless. She blushed again over their attention and suddenly felt better than she had about the prior situation with Nikki.

Both her and Seth had more in common than they'd known at that point in the fact that their decision making process was not a result of their own mind, but rather in reaction to their social surroundings. A carefully crafted though little planned impromptu of intellect on the part of the manipulators, each of whom fancied themselves above the consciousness of those they so readily puppeteered. It was right there for both Michelle and Seth to know yet hidden behind a veil beyond which very few peer.

It occurred to Michelle that she'd like Seth. He was a handsome boy well into the process of becoming a man though Michelle had little experience in the department of self growth. Michelle had never done any self exploration or soul searching in her life. She had been daddy's gem until at the age of thirteen, daddy and mommy had irreconcilable differences and had parted ways. She'd stayed with her mother from that point though during his visits, she'd still always been his little gem, away from home albeit. He'd gone on to meet another woman though the two of them never had their own children. Instead Michelle had become the daughter of two families. In her first home, she was the daughter of a hard working single mother and in her second, she was her father's daughter, a hard working and responsible man in his own right, while she was also step-daughter to his new wife.

In her tale of two families, she lived a life for which she'd always been provided. She never competed with a sibling for the attention of her parents. She never dealt with the cruelty that young brothers can sometimes afford their young sisters or the over protection such brothers provide their sisters, wronged. Her room had been her room, filled with her things. None of which had ever been fought over with another. There they rested where they'd been placed, only to find use upon her whim. She was not spoilt but rather cared for responsibly. She was not used to conflict and often timid and relaxed while thriving at the attention of another, but shied from too many. Life had always been something that happened for her and sometimes to her. She'd never contemplated that the unfolding of causality in the universe might possibly be affected by her own desires and her efforts to achieve them. She was by no means lazy or unmotivated. She was just happy to be, when the act of being wasn't too bumpy.

Seth did not remind her of her own father, though at times she thought she'd spied a similar sparkle in their eyes. A comforting look that assured her that everything was alright and that she was safe and in good company. Within those eyes there was also a hidden intensity. The eyes of someone who seemed to see everything. Someone who could look at you as much through you simultaneously. She did not see the turbulence within nor the cunning employed in attempt to micro-manage everything yet ultimately nothing. As if futility was the direct reciprocal of Seth's effort.

What she did see was a boy slowly becoming a man who never gave up, and she found that very attractive. Ultimately though he would have to come to her, as she never happened to life. It always happened for her and to her from her point of view. Anything beyond that was chaos and unfamiliar territory. The siblings she never had, become real to catch up on missed time wreaking havoc upon her and sway her from the events of her path.

To be continued...

Copyright 2019 Brian Joseph Johns