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A Miracle of Degree
part 12
by J.(Channing)Wells


* * *

Century Park. Sunset.

I'm lying on a bench beneath the statue of Prince Henry the Navigator. The same bench where I started this journey so many aeons ago. Except now, Eppie isn't here.

I've been lying here for some time now, watching the sun arc its way across the sky, and it is only that fearful orb's sluggish progression that has informed me that any time has passed here whatsoever. The grass is green and the sky is gold and the wind whips ever-so-slightly across my frame, tousling my ears and lifting my ever-present woolen longcoat from the rough wood of the bench-slats. It's still chilly out, again. Unusual weather for Summer. Signs and portents. My life walks in its own way, in its own small circles, and the ends are at the beginnings and the beginnings are at the ends and it's so hard to tell when one story starts and another story ends that I have given up even attempting to try.

I have been surveying this monument. Prince Henry does not see fit to return my gaze, his grim, forward-looking countenance fixed as it is on some eternally far-distant point on the horizon. A crock, of course. Prince Henry, from what I understand, never was much of a sailor. The nickname of "The Navigator" came only as reference to the vast percentage of Portugal's national budget that he allocated for naval exploration and whatnot during the heyday of the ship-going era. Again, I find myself wondering what exactly a statue of an obscure Portugese prince is doing here.

My idle wonderment falls into the vast, gaping vacuum of my mind, and as I have carefully cleared every single other thought away, my curiosity swells with the force of compulsion. It's best to be distracted here and now.

I rise from the bench and approach the statue, and with a little bit of searching, I am finally able to discover the plaque which I never had thought was there.

It reads:

"This statue of Henry the Navigator (Prince of Portugal, 1394-1460), patron of the nautical arts and founder of many modern celestial navigation techniques, is dedicated to the spirit of Going Forth into the boundless unknown, wherever the Future may lead. Raised January the First, the Year of our Lord Two-Thousand and One with the generous support of the Chaplaincy of the United States Naval Forces."

The Navy chaplains. Dad's people. One more message from beyond the grave.

Wherever the future may lead.

"I'm sorry... um... dad." I say, my voice vague and unfocused and directed to nowhere and noone in particular. "I... know we didn't exactly part company on the best of terms. Hell, I didn't even want you as a father in the first place. But... I... um... I can't be alone tonight. I can't."

I pause to collect myself.

"Dad, I have to tell you where I've been these past few days. I've been on a trip. With a little girl named Eppie. I'm not sure why I went, exactly. I mean, I know why I _said_ I was going. But in a way, it wasn't really the reason."

Another pause, blinking away the tears that build at the corners of my eyes. "I guess... I wanted to care for someone for once. To do something that meant something. And I wanted someone to care for me right back." The tears are almost there. "I'm going on thirty years old, dad. And I know that this is going to sound stupid... but I'm looking back at my life and I'm coming up with nothing so far. And guess I wanted to change that. Change it all."

Another shaky breath.

"But it didn't work, dad." I continue, at last, once again unsure about whom I'm speaking. "I never even got up the guts to tell her..."

I may or may not be crying. At this point, I don't even know anymore.

"...That I loved her."

And suddenly, there is an abrupt shift in my mental music.

A bridge. The chords thin and waver and wait breathlessly on the edge of... something. Just exactly like those endless, drawn-out points that you find in the better sorts of music that exist at the brink of the introduction of... something new. A new element to be introduced. An element that hasn't been present for a long, long time.

I can't describe the effect any better than that. It's as though the hithero-unheard mood music of my life has... _modulated_. Frowning in confusion, I look upwards.

Prince Henry is looking at _something._ I'm certain of it. Something standing there on the edge of vision, poised on the very rim of where the boundless unknown becomes the gloriously _here and now_.

I look up into Henry's inscrutable face for a moment with an expression of disbelief crossing my features.

And then... in the sound of one, distant voice, the symphony resolves itself and begins anew.


My already-aggrieved heart threatens to quit. Right there. Slowly, my head turns...

To see a slim, tomboyish figure wearing a light jacket and a Chicago Cubs baseball cap standing at the edge of the park proper, at the point where the grey becomes the green. And the words cram and rush into my throat and when I can hold them no more they pour from my lips in one, single, solitary name, a simple, singular-tense proper noun.


Somewhere in the background, Prince Henry watches as the quiet mood music plays ever on, but I will not swear to this, for the sum total of my world now consists only of the few square feet in which she stands, and somehow, through a miracle of physics, we traverse the distance between each other without ever consciously moving through the intervening space. I gather her into my arms as her smell fills my nostrils. My tail is wagging hard enough to create storms in China, but I don't give a fuck. Andrea's here.

It is the longest hug of my life thus far.

And after it is over...

"You came back." I plainly state, still in disbelief.

Andrea grins her best fallen-cherub grin. "Yeah. Fancy meeting you here." She says.

Once loosed, the rest of the words jostle for position in my mouth, bumping into each other in their plaintive rush. "But... I mean... how did you..."

"Find you?" She asks, smirking.

I nod, grateful for the chance to shut up.

"Asked around at the local SCABS bars. Guy at the last one said they had seen you this afternoon walking in this general direction. Simple detective work. I know how much y'enjoy a good walk in the park." She grins. "From there, it's only a matter of looking for the big six-foot-tall black-spotted dog-man. You're kind of... obtrusive, in a way, you know, Bix?"

I shake my head, laughing tremblingly to myself to keep myself sane. There's a lot of emotion here, but most of it is currently on back-order. "At least you can _find_ me. You're a damn hard girl to locate, Dreah. What's with the lack of answering machine response? You and Wallace done with your thing yet?"

She nods. "We're done."

"So." I say. "How... ahm... how long are you here for?"

She smiles, sweetly. "For the forseeable future."

"Pardon." I say to Dreah, politely, "but I have to sit down."

"Be my guest."

I find another convenient bench and use it, just in time. Dreah sits down too, and although she is two feet away, the zone of her smell has enveloped me in its depths.

"What did you say... just then?"

"For the forseeable future." That grin again.

"That's... what I thought." I say. There are a thousand more things I want to say right now, but all my brain can come up with is, "Why?"

She looks at me. "Why... what?"

I swallow and select one of the options. "Why here? I mean... I thought New York was your bag."

Dreah sighs. "Okay. The monologue. New York isn't gonna cut it for my extended plans, anymore, Bix. We're looking at the end of an era, here. The theatre has been on a long, slow, downward spiral for a hell of a long time now, and the more I stay in this business, the more I'm convinced that the future of the Stage is not gonna be found on Broadway or in Hollywood. The classic venues of stage and screen are bloated, overwrought, expensive Roman Circuses where only the juggernauts, the Andrew Lloyd Webers and the Sam Shepards and the Mitch Friedrichs of the world can survive. It's the Deadly Theatre, Mike. Experimentation in art has gone down the toilet. Everyone's afraid of trying anything new to avoid throwing the backers and losing their shirts. It sucks, but it's there. And it's been pissing me off for a long time now."

"So..." I say.

"Don't you get it?" Sayeth the Divine Andrea. "The future of the Actor isn't in NYC. Broadway is a dinosaur, Mike, and I wouldn't be surprised if we saw the death of it in our very lifetimes. The only way the pro stage is gonna survive is _regionalization_, Michael. We, as actors and directors and techies and whatnot, need to start _now_, and prove to the world that we can do stuff _here_ in our home cities that rival what you can see on Broadway, if not in budget, then in quality. And we need to start doing it _everywhere_ if the performing arts are to survive as a profession into the next century."

"So..." I say again.

"_This_ is me, Bix. SCABS Theatre! Cantcha' just see it? This whole city is _swarming_ with talent. There's a fully-functioning SCAB-focused community troupe here in this city _already_. We _have_ the resources, and they're the resources _everyone else_ is too stupid and bigoted to use. That's why I'm here."

I nod quietly to myself. Normally, in any other situation of this magnitude, I would find myself overjoyed and overwhelmed. But right now, all I'm sensing is the simple, calm hand of destiny.

Andrea is about to continue with her diatribe on theatrical philosophy when I raise up a hand.

"Yes?" She says.

"Just nutshell this for me, Dreah. You're settling down _here_. Permanently, or as near to permanent as you can make it be."

"Looks like. I've got some leads already for some patrons that we might look--"

I raise my hand again. "And you're gonna be, you know, getting a house or something here and becoming respectable and such?"

"Ah... yes..." Says Andrea, frowning curiously.

"That's all I needed to know." I take a deep breath of the air of the gathering evening and half-close my eyes, knowing that, from here on in, everything will, _must_, fall into place. There are higher powers at work than me.

"Andrea." I say, quietly. "There's... a girl that I want you to meet."

Her confused frown becomes a half-smile. "What...?"

I smile. "It's nothing. I just get this feeling that you two are gonna get along _famously._"

* * * * * * * * * * *
* * * * * * * * * * *

Eppie is standing nearby. Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes" is playing in the background. Eppie put it there, of course, in an attempt to dictate the mood of the moment. With Eppie, this type of thing happens. You get used to it, after a while.

Eppie is standing there, _looking_ at us.

"Well?" She says, after a time.

Andrea laughs, nervously. Andrea is still being indoctrinated into the Way of Eppie and is foolishly attempting to give some small resistance to her most recent request. She will learn, too.

"Eppie... I mean..."

I just shake my head. "Dreah, it's pointless to even try and resist her. She's too cute."

"Thanks, Bix!" Says Eppie, brightly. And then, to Andrea, "I mean, come _on_! It should be _obvious_! It's the next logical step!"

"I... ah..." Andrea hedges, looking at me. I grin. She continues, even more uncertainly. "I don't think that'd be a good idea... I mean, at least, not _right now_, as such."

I shrug. "Why not?" I say.

"You tell 'er, Mike!" Says Eppie. "I couldn't believe _you_, of all people, would go all this way and not finish things." Eppie smiles brilliantly at me.

I look at Andrea. "I don't know what to say, here..."

"She isn't really giving us much _choice_ in the matter, is she."

"Not in the slightest." I say.

"Well?" Says Eppie, tapping her foot impatiently.

I turn to Dreah again. "Just the once can't hurt."

"I... suppose not." Says Andrea.

"Well." I say.

Clumsily, uneasily, I saunter over to her in a way that I'm hoping looks remotely casual.

I place my hands on her shoulders.

We kiss.

It's never been something we've even discussed, even hinted at, in the past, but there's something about all the time we have spent apart that makes it all make perfect sense. It's very tentative, of course, and extremely awkward, but it happens. Eppie breaks into wild applause.

"Great!" She exclaims. "'Ah knew ya could do it."

I smile at her. "Thanks." I say. I note, idly, that I have not yet removed my hands from Andrea's shoulders, and that Dreah has not yet removed hers from my waist, either.

And... I guess that means that things are going _exactly_ as planned. So far.

Andrea is here. In my arms.

Grumble all you wish about the old cliche that the end of one story is the beginning of a hundred others. _It's true._ Because there is a glorious hope in me, and that hope, given flesh in words, is that there will be, now, at this present moment, a breaking out of all the be-damned cycles. A removal of ourselves from the looping rings of darkness surrounding the man who was, in different ways, father to both Eppie and myself. A man that Eppie never knew and a man that I only believed that I did. And although I think that I can now, finally, honestly, forgive him...

And perhaps, along with him, myself...

...I am not certain that anything that I thought that I knew about my past will ever be the same, viewed in the light of... what I now know.

Which leaves me with the future. But that's okay. Because sometimes, that's all we ever have.

And at the last, quite coincidentally as Peter Gabriel is singing the line, "The Resolution / Of All The Fruitless Searches," I take the Divine Andrea and the similarly Divine Eppie into my arms. And as the music rises and swells, we stand there in our threesome, breathing each other's air, sharing each other's warmth and reveling in each other's existence.

And so on and so forth, into the night, all through to the coming of the dawn.

* * *

Fade to black.

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