Working on THE CULT OF MAXIMUS has exposed a few problem areas for me as a writer — I really need to get better at writing scenes where characters are in direct conflict, and I could stand to shore up my dialogue so that characters expose their personalities a bit better through how they speak. I wanted to do a little bit of fiction that put two characters in direct opposition AND demands that the resolution be attempted by dialogue. So here goes.
Liam looked up as soon as Victor entered. The bear paused warily as the lion’s eyes slid from his face to his outfit — a red flannel shirt and a pair of heavy work jeans that looked like they were made of particle board judging by their drape. Liam tried to look neutral, but Victor knew his disapproval in the bristle of his whiskers and the single, agitated thump of his tail.
“A flannel shirt?” Liam said as he stood up. “Here? Are you sure you wanted to meet here?”
“Fuck you. This is my best shirt.” Victor stuck out his hand, staring Liam down. The pair made an imposing sight; Victor was pushing seven feet and well over 300 pounds of fat-marbled muscle, while Liam was even taller, his mane covering the shoulders of his navy blazer and forcing the light blue gingham shirt to be unbuttoned twice from the collar. If their size weren’t enough to draw the attention of the others in the bar, the tension that leapt into the air certainly was.
“Mmm. I suppose so. My apologies.” Liam seemed unconvinced. He sat down again and immediately drained what was left in his tumbler. “May I get you something to drink?”
Victor slid into the opposite seat, a small ear flicking at the way the sturdy wood creaked beneath him. “Yeah. They got any beer?”
Liam smiled. “They have an excellent list of Belgian and German beers that I think you will love.”
He raised one big paw to the waiter. The weasel slinked over. “A triple of your 15 year Laghavulin, neat, with a splash of spring water. And is your Fastbier still on tap? A glass for–”
Victor rested a mitt on the weasel, who looked like he might leap out of his shirt. “You got Bud?” The waiter nodded. “Gimme one of those.”
“Still avoiding new experiences, I see.” Liam sniffed after the waiter left.
“No. I’m avoiding some jackhole ordering for me when I already know what I want.” Victor frowned and crossed his arms. “Besides, we ain’t got time to savor beer. Let’s get this over with.”
“Very well.” Liam looked away for just a moment, and Victor knew that he had gotten to him. The lion recovered quickly, shifting in his seat and crossing his hands on the table. “What would you like?”
The bear sniffed. “Don’t need much. Just some of the furniture, a couple of the pots and pans. And the TV.”
“All right. Nothing more?” Liam looked at Victor closely, and the bear felt that familiar line racing up his back when he stared back into golden, slitted pupils.
“Nah. I’ll make my own way well enough. Unless you got shit you want to get rid of. I can take that off your hands. You wanna keep the wet bar?”
The lion reached across the table and grabbed Victor’s hand. “I want to keep us. I don’t know why we have to do this.”
“Because you think of us as something to keep.” Victor pulled his hand away. “You’re not really in love with me. You want somebody you can dress up and buy fancy beers for.”
The big cat let his hand linger on the table for a moment, fingers stroking empty space before he pulled it back. “I don’t think that’s fair. I’ve always supported your interests.”
“When you got bored giving me shit about ’em. You know how much a pain in the ass it is to have to justify every little thing to you because you don’t understand it? I’m sick of it. We ain’t compatible. Simple as that. So now you can find somebody you can go to the opera with or some shit, and I can finally take my boyfriend fishing. It’s better for both of us.”
“You never talked to me about any of that!” Liam’s whiskers bristled, then flattened as soon as the weasel returned with drinks. He gave the waiter a toothless smile, then slumped in his seat when he left. “I didn’t know how much it bothered you.”
“You didn’t care. I’m not that hard to read. As long as I didn’t make too big a fuss about it, you did what you could get away with.” Victor swallowed the bottle in one paw and took a long draught of it. “I’m tired of doing things I hate just because it’s easier.”
Liam stared at his tumbler for a moment before knocking the whole thing back. “Why did you stay so long if it was really that terrible? You make it sound like being with me was torture for you.”
“I did love you.” Victor responded without hesitation. “Maybe I changed, or maybe you took me for granted, or maybe you stopped trying to make me like you and became who you really were. I don’t know. The point is, it’s over now.”
“It doesn’t have to be, my love. I can change.”
Victor shook his head. “No you can’t. If you could, you would have done it by now.”
“By magically reading your mind?”
“By paying attention to something other than yourself for five god-damned minutes.” Victor grunted as he stood up, drinking the rest of his beer. “What is this? I thought we were here to talk about how to divide up our stuff. But you can’t help trying to get your way, can you?”
Liam blinked. “I thought you wanted to meet here because there was still a chance.”
Victor sighed. “I asked to meet here because I knew you liked this place and it’s down the street from my site.” The bear rubbed at his eyes with thick, clawed fingers. “Christ, Lee. Do you even remember where I work?”
“And what do you remember about me?” The lion’s voice rose to a near-roar. His hand slapped the table, and the constant murmur of voices around them abruptly died. “What’s my favorite piece of classical music? My favorite film? Why did I pick this blazer? How much do you really know about the things I care about?
“You spend so much time being resentful about how I won’t go watch grown men beat each other up in their underwear that you never even stopped to consider why I tried to expand your horizons! You’re so much better than that. You’re smart. You’re honest. But you’re so much more close-minded than I am. You discount anything I like before you’ve even given it a chance! What the fuck are you doing with yourself? I was only trying to share the things that I care about. The opera is important to me! This…” –he tugged on his blazer– “…is important to me! But you couldn’t care less. I don’t think you’re capable of enjoying anything. I think the only thing you want to be is numb. Well if that’s it, fine. Drink your cheap beer and watch your wrestling. I’m not going to watch you shut out the world any more. Maybe you are doing me a favor.”
They could both feel sets of eyes on them as the entire bar had turned to watch. Victor swallowed once. His face hardened. And he turned to leave. “We’re done here.”
Liam watched him go. He sat in his chair and stared at his glass. He kept staring, even as the weasel quickly and silently removed it, cleaning the small ring of water it left behind.