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An Evening Wherein Kent and Gabe Do Not End Up Going Out
Gabriel's looking in the mirror, fussing with his beard, while I watch from the bed. Well, it's not actually a bed... more of a platform on the floor of his room, fitted up with a mattress and bedclothes... Serves well enough, I guess. Gabe tells me that the room came this way and saved him the trouble and expense of installing a frame, so he stayed with it. I think it's not quite soft enough, myself, but then I always was one for comfort.
"Leave it, Gabe," I tell him. "The beard looks fine."
"Fine for who? A person or a wildebeest?" He's still messing with it, running a metal comb through it, separating strands with his fingers as if trying to decide how much to remove.
"You're a person, and you look great, so I'd say the wildebeest's beard looks fine on the person."
He looks at me.
"Gabe," I insist, "you look _fine_. I thought I made a date with you, not your mirror. When are you and your reflection gonna break it up and give me some attention?"
He fusses with the comb a minute more and then sets it down. His choice of music, playing on the portable stereo, seems incongruous considering the circumstances Feech and I last heard it in.
The music group continues: "Don't cry for me, next door neighbor..."
"What's wrong?" I ask again. "Are you sure that music doesn't depress you?"
"I told you I always liked these songs. I just used 'Tubthumping' for being pissed off. Now I'm... fine. Kind of."
"Maybe you should turn it off and come give me some attention."
The man-wildebeest turns back to the mirror. This time he starts rubbing the stray hairs around his eyelids and the bases of his curved, dark horns. "Shit," mutters Gabriel.
"I look like shit."
"Oh, easy for you to say. I don't know how you even _know_ you're a wolf.
"I mean, anybody who didn't know you wouldn't be able to tell. You smell a little like a predator to me, I admit, but I wouldn't try to guess what kind. With me it's like, okay, Gabriel's a SCAB, we'll just look him up in this book of African wildlife and, Bam! Right on plate 53. Gabe's a 'beest, all right. Blue race, member of the antelope family, all that. Be glad you got off so easy."
I shift my position a little on the platform.
"Do you _feel_ okay tonight, Gabriel? You don't seem as relaxed as you have been."
"Look, Kent," he says, "the very reason I have _been_ more relaxed is that, after the change and all, I feel _fine_. But it is becoming more obvious to my, shall we say, new-found brain that I _look_ considerably less than fine."
"What's wrong? Why so morose all of a sudden?"
"All of a sudden?" Again the glittering eyes turn on me. "Kent, what do you think... What do you think I..."
I try to avert my eyes somewhat, not to intimidate him. He pauses for so long that I begin, "What is it you don't want to tell me? Is--"
"Nothing. But I--"
"You go ahead."
"No, you go ahead."
"All right." I attempt to organize my thoughts. "How come you're way over by the mirror anyway? Want to keep company with yourself tonight? I could go home, if you want me to. I am asking what's wrong, and I wouldn't ask if I didn't want to know."
"You could be over here by the mirror."
I grin wickedly at him. "I think you should get on the bed with me."
Gabriel sighs and looks away. Again. "Don't be ridiculous. What do you want, anyway? Why did you agree to a date?"
I start to sing, over the sound of Chumbawamba's 'Tubthumper'. "Iiii wanna get to knooow yooou..."
I get a look. I quit singing and speak. "The date was my idea, Gabe. Why did _you_ agree to it if you're going to spend all evening worrying about your mane and beard and horns and what-have-you? And what's eating you, really, anyway? You've seemed better lately. I think you look great. If there's anything getting you down, I'd like to hear about it. To help. I'm sure Feech would, too..."
"Feech has had plenty of my glumness, I'm certain. And maybe I want to be with you, but there are things you shouldn't have to deal with."
I can sense even before the man starts talking that he's going to change the subject, and sure enough I'm right. He smells wistful, somehow, as he once again turns from his position by the mirror, and I decide to let the conversation go his way. No sense getting too aggressive. Gabe turns the topic over to my own behavior.
"Kent. Why do you keep kissing me?"
"Me?" I bat my eyes in what I hope looks like an innocent fashion. "I'm way over here."
He almost smirks but catches it in time to keep a frown solidly planted on his blue-grey-brown face. "I like it fine, Kent, but why? I don't think a day has gone by when you haven't planted a kiss somewhere on-- this--" he waves a thinly furred hand vaguely past his face "this-- face since you talked to me in the scene shop. Morning of _Blue Window_ auditions. Why?"
Is he that down on himself? "Why _not_, Gabe? You just said you liked it. And I always have to start it because you never do... Which gives me an idea. Get over here and sit down."
He ignores me, on the pretense of adjusting the hairs in his mane.
I continue (as does Chumbawamba: "Take me in, throw me out, put me up, let me down..."). "Gabe, get over here and kiss me."
"What makes you think that I think that you actually find me attractive?"
That's so roundabout, yet so serious, that I let go a little laugh before assuring him, "_I_ approached _you_. Since when does that qualify as humoring someone? I without question find you attractive, and I have given you a kiss every day because you haven't stopped me. For which I am grateful. Now I wish you would get whatever's bothering you off your chest so we can have a nice date. Okay? Don't get me all upset and make me go predatory."
"There you go, that's just it. It's... _appropriate_ that you would come to me, instead of the other way around. And anyhow, I'm not sure you know what you're getting if you date me."
"That is what I am here to find out."
He emits a nervous scent as he again grasps the comb and works at the cream-colored, longer beard hairs near the base of his throat. "You know," Gabe tells me, "I grew a beard once for a show. Quite aways before I had Martian Flu. It looked okay, I guess. But then I had a brown beard, and was human."
"Mmm... What show?"
"Oh." I'm too antsy to let this drag on for long. Besides, the she-wolf is telling me to go for another try, and Gabe might as well be ready. We're about a match in strength now and if he doesn't want to be touched in his own territory I could well be asking for it. I tell myself to let him do this on his own. If he would just let me hear it, whatever it is. He takes things to such extremes. Which is charming, but not good for furthering relationships. "Didja have one of the kissing parts?"
He looks right at me. "I forget."
I change position again in my seat on the bed. "How'd I get so fortunate as to gain a return kiss on the morning of _Blue Window_ auditions?"
He sighs. Which in Gabriel's case amounts to a soft blowing-out of breath from flared nostrils. Almost, but not quite, a frustrated snort. "Kent."
He leans on the desk, nearly sagging into it, but still comes no nearer myself and the platform. I begin to wonder if perhaps I am too wolfish, keeping him away. I wait to hear what he has to say.
"Kent. I know you _think_ you know what you're getting. But, well, it's back again to the wolf. You said you have gone into a full-morph form before, maybe three times. But even with that knowledge, and the feeling and everything, how did you land on 'wolf'? How do you know you're not something else? Have you looked in a mirror?"
"Not as her, no. But I know by now what I am. And it's not a guess. I saw some wolves on TV, same as before, only now they were family. Strange a disease should make me feel that way, but it does. We must morph, at least to some extent, into a true member of our virus-species. I wouldn't assume it, just based on that, but I have a sort of-- discomfort around some other canines. As if only wolves are trustworthy, or right. But that's very mild."
"Have you ever seen an actual wolf?"
"Yes. Talked with one once, another female, at an environmental center back in California. But I'd rather stay with humans anyway, I think. Even if I am lupine."
"Kent, that's just it. Am _I_ human? Probably not. More wildebeest than human, if you look at me. Better not take _me_ to a game park. I'd probably join the herd or something."
I fold my hands in my lap. "Thrill of having your clothes fit kind of wearing off?"
"No... The worry about-- you-- this thing-- was there before. But I didn't know if... I should take you seriously. I kissed you in the scene shop because I figured you might not do it again. You know, theatre people, only two there, I thought you could just be in a mood or something."
"Me? Have you ever seen _me_ random-cuddle _anyone_?"
Another wildebeest snort-sigh. "No. But you have to remember, Kent, I wasn't paying much attention to you during... that whole mess. Before this thing stabilized. I know you and some others were watching _me_. But I was only fighting and acting. I have to admit that."
I take a chance at heading back for the deeper worry. "Why is it so important to you that I know what kind of SCAB I am?"
In the long pause that follows the music keeps playing and the slight shuffle of my pants-cuff as it brushes the edge of the bed-platform is barely audible. Gabe taps the desk and "hmphs" slightly before a rush of embarrassed scent reaches my nostrils. He answers, "I think you realize I had a desire to be female."
I nod. "I know."
"And despite being in a permanent male body, now, I am just as permanently a transsexual person. Animal. Whatever."
"Person. Yes." Gabe's scent is nearly that of fear now and, though I'm still not certain what could be upsetting him, I avoid making any threatening eye contact.
"And you feel that, even while in your fully human form, you have many of the characteristics of a female... female wolf, right?"
"Gabriel, that's right, but I wouldn't ever--"
He stops me quickly. "Oh, no, I don't mean that. You couldn't hurt me if you tried, now. I'm big enough, God knows, and alert enough in my own right. I'm just trying to ask a stupid question, okay?"
"Yes! Shoot! Please ask me a question."
"Your female wolf. Is she a lesbian?"
"Hm. I guess... I don't know. In this man's body I'm transsexual. Does that count?"
"Well, Kent, I sure don't know. But are you, well, _sure_ the wolf you are would be all right with that? I don't want to get into this, now, without... I know I'm a coward but I've had enough of fighting SCABS and I don't want to fight yours in the bargain. The upshot is, I am not a man, not the way a woman would want, so unless you _and_ your wolf are attracted to my personality in this body then I don't think..."
I shake my head. "Gabe, you really don't have to dissect this that way. The wolf is me. I may not always look it, but I always _am_. Is that what you mean? Is that what's been worrying you? Because there's only one person here, in the long run. And the first time I approached you the wolf-part was as enthusiastic as the man-part, if you get my drift. Speaking of which, hop in this bed, yes?" I pat the spot next to me but Gabriel's not moving.
"You like this body."
"Absolutely. I'm drooling over it right now. You look great. You sound great. I love your fur. Wish I had horns like those."
Gabriel is the king of distant gazes. "I don't like it."
"I see. And how big a fan were you of the body you had before Martian Flu?"
Gabe sighs. And comes to sit on the bed. I freeze in a neutral position.
The stereo plays. "There are unwritten rules..."
He leans his head over to touch my shoulder, obviously afraid he'll be too heavy. I lean into him so he'll settle in and stay there. Anything to encourage him.
"So what do you see in... this?" A vague sweep of a hand over himself again.
I take it he's not talking about spirit and personality and who-he-is-deep-down. There's a lot to be said for liking the package. I ought to know about that. A few subtle changes and my own parents practically disown me. I hope his own sense of smell will assure him I'm telling the truth.
"What I see. Hm. Just about the best-looking creature, man, woman, wildebeest or otherwise, to ever be encountered by me. I think I have encountered enough people for that to mean at least something."
He nods, rubbing against my shirt.
"_I think_ you're better off for being unique. I love your voice. It's so... African. Melodic. Both. And other things. It's a nice touch. Really rounds out the colors of your fur, to have a voice so... um... I need a good word here... full-spectrum in its own right. I like the way you use your hands when you act. And to review, I like your beard."
"You think I should keep the beard."
"How'd you get so lucky?"
I chuckle. "You tell me. You're the one who keeps letting me kiss you."
"You know what I mean. With the disease."
"It could have been better. I could have been a beautiful woman."
"Then we wouldn't be doing this, of course..."
"Well then, define 'lucky'."
"_I_ don't know, Kent. I'm just worrying and it's not getting me anywhere..."
"Tell me about it." I fall back onto the bed, leaving Gabe to catch his balance. He swats at me. I deflect it. "We're sure not getting anywhere. Want to go out somewhere? Stay here? _Kiss_?"
He takes another fake swing at me but remains upright. "Lucky: Bahni and John, except Bahni's a snake now."
"So in their ideal world they'd both be men."
"Juliet and Beth. Except that Juliet requires assistance with every major linear concept she has to deal with."
"Okay, so they've got another ideal world. Lucky means the past having been different?"
Gabriel scratches his mane and thinks. "It must be something more than that, because that's not clicking with me. Something. You said 'ideal world'. That can't be the same for everyone."
"Sure it can. No Martian Flu, John and Bahni both men, you and I both women, our parents happy, everybody's parents happy..."
"Then I guess no one would ask the question 'how'd you get so lucky.'"
"Well, gee, we'd really miss that."
"I wonder if I could act anymore if there was no such thing as angst," Gabriel considers. "I don't think so. And you wouldn't be who you are without the wolf. I mean, your singing..."
I fold my arms in back of my head. "Oh, so now look who's getting all philosophical. You feeling better?"
"Mm... I don't know."
"I thought that was your specialty."
"New rule. You are not getting kissed, Gabriel Carter, until _you_ do it to _me_ first."
There's a challenge-scent here and I tense a bit. He knows that I know what he's up to. Strange how we find the advantages in the symptoms of a virus. That's human beings for you, I guess. So darned adaptable.
Gabriel, of course, makes no move to touch me in any way.
I pretend to relax. "So, looks like there won't be any kissing tonight."
Long pause. "Yep. Looks like it."
I roll onto my side. "Should we go out somewhere?"
"I don't know. Maybe I'll just sit here."
His back is to me, pointedly unyielding.
"Bastard," I say to his back.
He replies. "Bitch."
As soon as Gabriel has wrestled me off his back, pinned me to the mattress and given me one good warning-grunt, he jolts back upright. "I told you you couldn't match me."
"_I'm_ not trying."
Gabe flops down on his side as abruptly as he shunned me before. He takes in a little of my scent and nuzzles the blankets until he finds a comfortable spot.
"...she's homesick for a future..." Chumbawamba informs us.
"You're sure this music doesn't depress you."
He nods, rubbing against the bedclothes.
"You're very pretty, you know that."
The embarrassed scent again, and something else, more touched, more inviting. Gabriel says nothing and I continue on. "As long as we're somewhere near the subject, I should mention that I find your coloration extremely feminine."
He actually smiles. "Well that should go without saying."
"Do you suppose I'm pretty in full morph?"
She knows I'm fishing for one but hands it out anyway. "If the wolf's as good-looking as the man, I live in anticipation of your next change, Kent."
He kisses me.
I am not taken by surprise, but the satisfaction of having arrived here is not diminished in the least. As soon as he backs off, though, I'm back into the challenge-mode. My wolf has been still for too long tonight.
I tell Gabe, "Okay, now you've kissed me, so I technically should initiate the next one, but I'm not going to."
"Mm hm. You have to do the next one too or else beat me in a wrestling match."
"I just _di--"
While he's still talking I'm at her throat in a mock-attack, which of course is easily deflected, but in order to keep me back he has to pin me.
"Hee hee." I say.
I think she swears at me again, but starts in kissing at the same time so the words are muffled anyway. I start kissing, and tickling, in return and pretty soon the 'beest has got his weight fully over me, a submission for me which I could not, admittedly, find more enjoyable.
On goes Chumbawamba: "he drinks a whisky drink, he drinks a vodka drink..."
The she-wolf considers her plight and decides to chew playfully on the prey animal.
The prey animal, much as she appreciates the chewing, asserts current dominance over the situation.
"Knock it off. This is getting silly."
I just laugh and start singing with the stereo. Gabe's mild attempts to suffocate the voice out of me fail, not remarkably, and eventually he just lets me go on with it. He does like this song. Well. Wildebeests and their tastes.