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The Garden
part 2
by Feech

        The Black Box is... Black. There's nothing going on in it right now.
        I don't see Shadow. No lights in the Sound Booth. Nothing but me and the catwalk, and this dang light that I'm trying to hang...
        One more brushstroke on the canvas for the next show, so to speak.
        Or one more stitch in the garment that we unravel with strike.
        I like this Job.
        I'm just not sure what to do with myself anymore.
        The door to the lobby slices open, with a little swirling of dust flecks and a shift in air motion. Someone walks in, not a Theatre student but probably a student from... I check it out with my tongue. Yes, the Biology department with all those fish oils and formaldehydes and weird indefinable chemical-animal smells.
        The student also smells strongly of a sort of sharp, predatory mammalian form. I hang from the rail of the catwalk and peer down for a better look, counting on half of my thick, long, brown-spotted body to keep me balanced a story over the floor.
        It's a somewhat furry, black girl with mousy ears and a pastel dress, and hightop tennis shoes. She shuffles in with her Bio book under one arm and clambers disconsolately onto the last-show's black, glo-taped bleachers as if she's not even looking and just kind of stumbling onto a place to sit.
        Anyone _furry_ and attractive could just skitter on down there, greet the poor girl, and find out what's wrong and what she needs. I can tell that so far she thinks she's alone. I don't know what to do. I've approached in friendliness before and been bitten.
        Eventually I decide to go down.
        I wrap around a steel bar, wrinkle up my belly in sections to traverse its length, then grip a ladder with my front end and let my back half onto it before beginning the actual descent. The girl notices me, probably by scent, before I am halfway down the ladder, but so far she doesn't move.
        I lay my weight on the smooth, black floor and begin to creep over to the bleachers. She begins to look, and smell, a little nervous. I flick my tongue out in a Morse pattern to greet her, but I'm not sure she notices. She says something, the feel of which barely even reaches my jaws where they brush the floor, and I stop and shake my head.
        The student lets herself down one level to the lowest step of the bleachers and looks at me carefully, taking a few whiffs of the air.
        H-E-L-L-O, I spell carefully.
        She stiffens, then brightens. Quickly she reaches down and taps on the floor.
        M-O-R-S-E  G-O-O-D
        I nod and part my jaws a bit. A lot of the Bio students seem to know Morse, whereas the Social Sciences people prefer manual alphabets and the like. At least in my experience. I guess that would be interesting, if it mattered.
        I'm not sure what matters anymore.
        Y-O-U  O-K-A-Y  I spell, trying to show concern in my face.
        She looks away, clutching her book, for a second or two. Then her bright black eyes turn back in my direction. W-H-O A-R-E Y-O-U
        A-L-A-N  I reply.
        She nods, picking at the corner of the thick textbook, as if it needs to be picked at.
        W-H-O A-R-E Y-O-U
        She taps shyly: L-A-U-R-I-E
        H-I Y-O-U O-K-A-Y
        She shakes her head.
        I wait, to see if she will perhaps tell me if there is anything I can do.
        The Black Box is quiet. There's a power tool, I think the table saw, sending some buzzing into my lungs from behind the doors to the Scene Shop, but otherwise I feel sort of detached from everything and close to this Laurie-person.
        Finally, she leans down and taps, Y-O-U K-N-O-W G-A-B-E C-A-R-T-E-R
        S-U-R-E I D-O
        I wonder...
        I climb up onto the bleachers with Laurie, and by this time she doesn't seem so nervous.
        I don't really know how much time passes. I know there are things I could be doing, but Laurie just looks so... Small, somehow, and lost. Maybe those tennis shoes have something to do with it, make her look childish and cute.
        I explain to her that she doesn't have to tap the surface I'm on, because I can see the sequence and she can simply approximate the dots and dashes in air, but she prefers to do it on a surface anyway. I converse with my tongue, as usual, and pretty soon she is tapping quickly away on her textbook, as if she needs to tell me everything before she withdraws to wherever she came from and no one ever hears what she needed to say.
        She's lonely.
        She's afraid, because she's lonely and loneliness reminds her of other things.
        I ask her why she wanted to know about Gabe Carter.
        She frets a little, then tells me that Gabe was a present support, a physically here friend that she met on some kind of a computer social list and got together with when they quickly discovered that they went to the same college.
        Her boyfriend is in Pennsylvania.
        P-E-N-N-S-Y-L-V-A-N-I-A  I spell, with some incredulity, considering my mindset of late.
        Laurie nods. She met him on a trip to the East Coast, and before they each went to their separate homes she knew she had found someone.
        Gabe helped her, here, when she missed this Angelo person out in Pennsylvania.
        And now Gabe is gone, in the sense of having a friend present on campus... Her counselor is wonderful, but being on chat channels with Gabe and the others and feeling so far away from it all, knowing Gabe and Angelo are in the same town and having her mid-terms out of the way and nothing to nobly distract herself with, she's so lonely... She came to the Black Box to get the smell of something that might help her relate to where Gabe and her boyfriend are now.
        I just sit there in my usual silence, but more stunned than helpful.
        I can't even believe what I spell in response to all this.
        L-E-T-S G-O
        She looks at me, startled.
        T-H-E-R-E    N-O-W
        A-L-A-N   W-E C-A-N-T
        We just have to. I can't sit and watch someone else in the same funk I'm in. We'll go see this Kelly Theatre, and come back in time for Laurie to make finals. I haven't really been anywhere in years.
        Granted, this is because there are not too many wheres to go that respond with anything but abject horror to huge pythons... Anything could happen...
        A-L-A-N T-H-A-T-S N-I-C-E O-F Y-O-U B-U-T I C-A-N-T
        I fix her with a stare such as I never use. I swear I'm not the pushy type. But sometimes you have to take signs and just go with them. She needs to see this Angelo person, and Gabe would be so flattered to know someone is missing him. Email just isn't the same. I should know.
        W-E-L-L B-E B-A-C-K F-O-R F-I-N-A-L-S
        She looks at me, grasping her book as though I might tear it away from her.
        A-L-A-N   W-H-Y
        I spell it out to her, literally.
        She watches raptly, taking on what I suppose is an expression similar to mine when I was letting her tell about her own feelings.
        When I've finished, wondering what in the world I have just told to a perfect stranger, Laurie does a complete turnaround on me.
        Y-O-U-R-E R-I-G-H-T L-E-T-S G-O
        I cringe back on myself a little, but then decide that's not fair. I started it, by approaching her.
        Well, pushy old Jax will get his wish. I'm going now, Laurie is seeing to that.
        We sit there, I coiled and she with her knees up under her palms, looking surprised at each other for some indeterminate amount of time.
        Okay, so just how are we going to get there?
        ...  Hasn't Jim mentioned off and on how he should really get out and get a look at that new theatre in Pennsylvania where some of his students went?
        Doesn't Jim have a truck?
        I have a favor or two coming to me.
        Surely he _needs_ a vacation.
        W-A-I-T H-E-R-E  I tell Laurie, and then I book it for the Scene Shop. There truly is no time to waste. One of us might change our minds.
        Now if I can just do this right and get the set down in _Jim's_ mind...

        Jim glares at me from the driver's seat, but he always glares. That's the way his octopus eyes are. We're surrounded with his skin-protective equipment for nighttime stops and my specific charge is the box of seawater mix for his bath at night.
        Again I thank Jim for doing this with us.
        Laurie sits in back, looking out the window even before we get going; she's shy of Jim, but then most students are. Her scent is eager, though.
        At least she _knows_. At least there is no one Angelo would rather see than Laurie.
        Well... I can say hi to a few of the folks, anyway, and there's Jim to talk to if no one remembers me or cares.
        Yeah, I'm being self-pitying.
        Feech won't respond anymore than she did at Hayden Heath, no matter what Jax thinks.
        I just don't know.
        But at least I'll see to it that Laurie and her boyfriend get to see each other before she goes back to school.
        He'll be so surprised. It'll be just so precious.
        I wish _I_ could say that about someone...

        I do a lot of dreaming on the way to Pennsylvania.
        Too much of it has to do with the teeth jutting out of my serpentine jaw and that passage in Genesis.
        I don't want to have to be cursed to hurt anyone; why did SCABS have to do this to me?
        I dream that Feech never looks at me and to get her attention I have to attack her.
        That's not fair at all. It's not right, it's not fair. I appeal to God and He grants me the right not to attack her, so long as I never approach another woman again.
        I turn back into a man and sob.
        My waking dreams are much pleasanter.
        Sometimes Laurie and I talk, but sometimes I just lay my head on the headrest in the front seat of the truck's cab and watch the black-furred girl and imagine that she must be running through similar waking fantasies in her head, only hers are much more certain to come true.
        Jim periodically points out an attractive herd of cows or a quaint house or a bizarre office building out his side of the truck.
        I wonder if Feech even got my last email.

        It seems like it should be a long trip, but when you're thinking of all the _perfect_ greetings that could happen at the end of it, playing them and replaying them out in your mind, it's never long enough. I want to call out, if I could even make a sound other than a desperate hiss, that it's too soon, that I haven't lived enough in my own perfect dreamscape to feel ready for whatever comes when we enter that Theatre.
        We drop Laurie off first, Jim telling her that he'll meet her and Angelo for dinner the next day and to solidify plans for the stay and for the trip back. I ask him not to promise anything about me, because I don't really know what kind of mood I am going to be in.
        We wait in the truck, relaxing, while Laurie organizes her stuff and finally thanks Jim and I yet again before trotting nervously and eagerly up the apartment building steps just off the sidewalk.
        She disappears into a side hallway for a moment, then someone else emerges, quickly and in evident surprise. He stares out at us, then leaps down the stairs in twos and threes to meet us and try to talk Jim and I into coming inside. Jim repeats his earlier plan, then Angelo smiles and nods to both of us, _he_ thanks us again, and he and Laurie go inside.
        The perfect part is over.
        Well, at least after today, Jax and Gabe can't give me anymore flack about this.
        But that won't stop me from hating _myself_ if I manage to screw up what _could_ have been good.
        We've always been friends. Surely I won't ruin things for her just by making one little visit.
        I feel almost sick to my stomach. I haven't been this nervous since I changed.
        I know I'm going to be doing things that I have never done. I'm here for a reason and I may as well go for it. The only way to be able to honestly say I've tried is to... Honestly try.
        God, if there _is_ a God, now would be a good time to revive a little of that spirit in this literally cold heart.
        I'm glad Jim's truck is warm.
        There's a lot to be said for ambiance, when you're cold-blooded. Maybe I'll be warmed through in both ways when we get to the Theatre.
        It's back to that mentality I have on the lights and the Light and my surroundings imbuing me with the only spirit I can claim in this form.
        I think of cords like hanging vines and wonder whether the Kelly Theatre has anything I could really sink my symbolic and working mind into. They don't have a high ceiling in their mainstage.
        I'm eager to see it.
        But I won't be able to pay a whit of attention to it until I do something about Feech.
        Why _me_? What did I do to deserve this chance to screw up?
        Maybe that's why Jax isn't with her. Maybe she's impossible to reach, and he's trying to leave it to someone who wouldn't have a chance with anyone else anyway.
        Honestly, though...
        Honestly, given a choice, I can't think of anyone else I would do this for anyhow.
        Traveling through a strange city, two obvious SCABS...
        I actually curl my tail around Jim as we drive to the Theatre. He doesn't seem to mind. He rarely leaves Hayden Heath, himself.
        The Thim and Rosemary Kelly Theatre.
        It's a small building, and immediately appealing.
        I gaze down the street and sidewalk in either direction before descending from the cab, and I'm not looking for motor vehicles. I guess I'm half expecting some militant, openly armed Humans First gang or something, but the area is quiet. So far so good, my entire length makes it out of the truck and through the front door unharmed.
        Jim follows deftly on his eight limbs.
        It's cool inside, but on the just-right level of cool, as any theatre seems to be when well-run... I don't know how these people have such good senses of temperature, but they seem to be just right for any species.
        I'm almost feeling comfortable and curious about looking around when I remember my personal vision again and experience another churning of my insides with my emotions until Jim looks at me concernedly and steers me toward the water fountain.
        I take a drink, but that's not what I need. I need to do what I came here for and decide once and for all what Alan is going to do with his career.
        Yes, that's a big thing, and a big part of it.
        But all it is right now is a cover in my mind for the seething visions and remembered scents and touches that I haven't experienced in months.
        Is it really right for me to do this, to approach her?
        Too late to wonder now; I'm in the same state, the same town, the same building, and it'd be rude of me not to do something.
        We meet Larry Kelly. I'll get a look at him later. I'm sort of absent right now.
        Friday evening, Larry tells us, would find Feech taking her break out on the steps between the two buildings. Lots of the others are out at post-dinner gatherings; she doesn't usually go.
        I feel just a slight touch of anger when that information filters through. She's wasting herself. This just won't do. She can deny me her company, I won't give her any trouble about that, but she's always loved to be with these other people. She's got some answering to do for this; she's had months of others begging and pleading for her to please be part of their family again.
        As soon as it might be marginally polite, I crawl past the staging area to the back exit and out into the cemented, darkening area of the alley. The steps face outward, to the street, and the alley is tiny; almost as though it just didn't occur to the builders that they could have built the second shop flush up against the first. The stairs seem to be some kind of afterthought.
        I smell her long before I get to the cracked-open door where the street air and the edge of light from a lamp reach around into the Theatre under the red EXIT sign.
        Everything comes back in a rush, the Feech from before and the conversations and then the sullenness and the months of nothing. I hang back before I get to the threshold, almost hoping she might notice me and almost hoping that we can stay this way forever without a single aggressive move on my part and without her ever failing to respond... This cannot fail if I am not truly here.
        I move ahead anyway.
        And she notices. An extra helping of her scent laces the forks of my tongue as she lifts her chin off her hand and turns her head.
        There is a rhythmic vibration, a tapping. A-L-A-N
        I can't tell the mood behind the coding. She knows my scent as well as I hers, or I make some signature noise on the flooring as I approach her. She knows, yet it is still a question.
        I can't just approach carefully and still expect to do anything more than I have tried in the past.
        I launch myself out the doorway, onto the step, and in less than two seconds I wrap nearly half of my entire length in layers around her until I am _sure_ she cannot get up and walk away.
        She flinches, at first. The pressure seems to mesmerize her, though, or at least change her demeanor...
        She lifts a hand from between two of my coils and starts to spell something, just starts, then drops the fingers suddenly and leans her cheek on my skin as if falling into some sudden, exhausted sleep.
        I hold, firmly but gently.
        She shudders. Then she begins weeping.
        I don't know what to do. I just hold on. The cement is chilly under my torso, Teresa's perpetual denim jacket is rumpled comfortably under my grip, and the places where her skin is in contact with mine are slowly becoming very, very warm.
        She cries until she begins coughing, then I tilt both of our weights a little to one side and loosen my embrace so she can clear out her throat and take some deep breaths. I still can't read her expression, although somehow I believe I would sense her anger if it was there... If only she would talk to me...
        Finally she wraps one hand over the top of my spine and hugs me. We've never embraced quite this tightly before.
        She looks just the same, if perhaps a little more solemn, even, than when she returned from the hospital. Her furred ear-tips are very obvious against the extreme short cut of her hair, but she told us sort of sullenly a long time ago that she didn't see what the heck good it would do to grow her hair back out if she couldn't see it to style it.
        Gabe and Kent accused her, pleasantly, on separate occasions, of being proud of those ears, and she did not deny it.
        I think she is insufferably cute.
        For some reason, giddiness has replaced the fear. At least there is this, if there is nothing else. But I still have to make up my mind, to know, and I am about ready to plunge into the questioning when she holds me under the chin with one hand and spells where she knows I can see it;

        alan i am so fucking angry at you

        I simply wait.

        and i am sorry

        If snakes could cry, I would be doing it now. There's just nowhere for the emotion to go, so I start rippling my muscles in sections up and down my entire length. We get warmer the longer I hold her.

        you could have known i wanted to ask you

        I kiss her, not able to articulate even in code to answer, my tongue having to serve for random ticklings rather than any sort of considered communication. She rubs her own face against mine until I nudge her a little with my lips and tickle her again with my tongue. After a few moments I collect myself to flicker a few words against her cheek where she can feel them:

         a r e    y o u    o k a y    w i t h    m e     s t a y i n g

        She nods, then presses me tight against her face with one hand and takes in a few fast, shuddering breaths left from the weeping. I don't know what to do next, but I don't really care, either. She'll tell me what to do. She has answers for everything. Right now I'm just holding her, and maybe I should have done it a long time ago.
        Maybe. Maybe this is right and is the only time it could be right.
        I point out to her, slowly, flicking my tongue in and out on her skin, that there is a light on in the street and it's getting pretty dark out, that maybe we should go indoors.

        to stay with you some more

        she asks, quickly, as if almost afraid of ending the embrace.
        I assure her that I only meant I didn't want either of us to get chilled.
        She hasn't noticed the chill, she says, pulling another section of my body around her as if to show why.

        but i did know the light was there

        h o w

        bugs    i hear them gathering

        I look up at the sparkling, tiny clouds of creatures; she's right, they're there in force, even in the chilly weather. In the deeper winter there won't be such a ready signal when the lamps go on at night.
        Of course, I reason, Teresa won't be so likely to be sitting out on the stairs in the dead of winter anyway.
        Something tugs at the edge of my memory, but I'm not sure what.
        Whatever it is, Feech can discuss it with me.
        I suppose it's terribly selfish to claim her for the evening... But she and Lawrence both said she wasn't doing anything else...
        I pick her up in my coils and set her on her feet, and she laughs. In direct contact with her body, I receive the vibrations from this sound in full.
        I wish I could laugh with her, send the feeling back and share it in some way that my silent self cannot.
        All I can think of to do is continue that feeling in her. If moving to Pennsylvania and switching jobs and taking the time to hug her and kiss her is all it takes, heck... I can handle that.
        I kiss her again. She returns the gesture.
        Once we're in the Theatre's back entryway again and the door falls shut behind us, it occurs to me that there is no vibration, no sound, here at the moment.
        The only light is in a tiny glowing film around the EXIT sign.
        We stay for a moment in the entryway, collecting each other's scent and getting used to it again.
        I want to say something, but she beats me to it, scritching lightly on my nape scales.

        i    t h i n k    i    l o v e    y o u

        I think I'm in Heaven.

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