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part 1
by Feech

        "I broke my toilet."
        It's a stupid answer, but it's the only one that's the truth. Believe me, I tried to come up with something better. But I know I can't lie to Carmel. Oh, I could, and maybe I could get away with it, but I have this sort of _instinctual_ inability to look him in the eye and lie to him. And if I don't look him in the eye, I wouldn't be me. And he'd know it.
        Carmel nods.
        "It's just so-- stupid!" I sputter, in case he hasn't realized this himself.
        Carmel can ask one word slowly. I don't know how, precisely, he does it, but he can make it sound like he has all the time in the world, like it took him forever to come up with just that perfect word and decide how to deliver it and he closes his eyes slowly at the same time, like there's nothing to expect from me but total enlightenment from my response to "why?".
        "Well--" I narrowly avoid a 'duh' appendix to this hasty beginning-- "just think. Of all the stupid reasons to commit suicide. That's not a good reason. Not 'I broke my toilet.' I mean, shit. You should be _in_ the toilet before you're committing _suicide_. And it wasn't just that. It was a whole lot of things. There weren't any more choices. But still... Fucking broke my toilet..."
        "I don't think it's stupid," he states, again slowly. I don't say anything, and he shifts so he's sitting closer to me, with one hand-paw on the couch where the cushions are sort of bent in under my ass; if I weighed any more, he'd be touching my thigh. That's all right. I mean, he's hugged me before and shit. I just don't know what'll come of this Twenty Questions thing. I mean, I knew it was coming. But I didn't want it to. It's harder than most other tests you have to face. I know what the wrong answers would be with most people, and they're all the answers that are my real life. Welcome to the real life of Mara LeSard. You dared to ask, didn't you. You just _had_ to ask. We could save ourselves a lot of shit now by just saying, "Good-bye! Was nice fantasizing about you until you asked for the truth!"
        I click my tongue against the roof of my mouth. Carmel opens his mouth, to speak some more. "I mean, I don't think there's any good reason to commit suicide. But, one poor reason is as valid as another, then, isn't it?"
        "I s'pose..." I mumble. "You know-- do you know-- I just didn't have any money..."
        Carmel is still. Just still, not like anyone I know from the Soho Club or anything. He doesn't jump around, and he doesn't startle at noises like I do, and he doesn't laugh at me when I do it. But, he laughs when I do the talking to him that I would do to myself, back in my shit-flat, when I work on my bit. I just stand around and talk to him and he laughs, and he's a good board to sound off of. I would know his laugh in a roomful of people's, I think; I'd like him to come and see me work, but I somehow doubt that the Soho Club would be Ritzy for him enough, you know? I mean, you shoulda seen the restaurant he took me to for dinner tonight. And the night before that.
        "I have-- a lease-- that holds me culpable for any damage to the plumbing. And I fucking had to call the _plumber_. And he's standing around, you know, they don't just come and do a _job_, it's like, they take your money for the time it takes, and I'm like breathing down his neck, freaked out because there's a _plumber_ in my _apartment_ and every minute he's there I'm out that much more for my meals next week. You know?"
        I'm doing that breathing again; I never choke on my own words on stage, or in my own "home", or even when I'm just talkin' to Carmel or myself to get my thoughts going so I have something to snatch up and use on stage. It's just too damn close to the other things, here; the past, the present blockades that hold it fiercely back, sending news from the front that things ain't looking none too good for the homeside if people keep _asking_ things... Might just have to let that past come storming through, and then he'll see. And it shouldn't fucking matter, but it does. Damn. He smells like a pine tree. Like Christmas, only quieter. Like a rabbit, but not. I suppose like a SCAB. Like a forest in the city or something else so Goddamn poetic.
        "You know?"
        "Of course, yes, I know."
        Of course you know, I want to sneer. Of course you fucking know. Everything I say you've planned the answer for so perfectly. I'm half tempted to _try_ your ass. I'm half tempted to see what you say when I _really_ tell you... Sure, you got the truth out of me about the toilet and the stupid-ass jogger's tape fashion statement and the overpass. But I don't want to tell you, I think. Why is it so close to the surface? Batten down the hatches! We need back-up at the stockade! Danger, Will R--
        "Mara." He touches the side of my face, where a lock of hair would be on anyone else; on me it's just more fur. Not that I have anything against fur, you understand. Carmel's has got some real color to it. Not washed-out beach color like mine. "Want to tell me anything else?"
        No. Not on your lucky bunny's foot life, Mr. Sherwood. I like you too much.
        Damn, he just can't be safe, can he? Where are all my prey instincts when I need them? I keep widening my rodentine nostrils in a decidedly non-ladylike way, taking in as much scent of him and his masculine vid-watching room (it has "paneling") as I can... And not one molecule of it sets me flying for the door with no thought for anything but escape... But logic tells me that here is a very dangerous man.
        I mean, think about it.
        For one thing, I trust him. That should be a warning signal right there. It's always, when it's not the butler, either the lawman, or the priest, or the doctor or the judge. The upstanding one, the one you need to have on your side to get anywhere, is the one that turns on you. So, for your perusal I submit the facts that Carmel Sherwood is a Contributing Member of Society. He is currently, _as we speak_, wearing a Very Nice Suit. Carmel never wears anything but Very Nice Suits. At the same time, he does not criticize anyone else's clothing. Eh? Mm? Think that over, why don't you.
        Carmel Sherwood Owns His Own Business. He is Active in a Lapine Pride and Support Group.
        Not enough? He's _Catholic_. Took me to his church for a visit, Christmas Eve. I could feel myself being watched. Not in a "bad" way, but any watching can sort of get to you. People were smiling and gossiping about us. He said they were pleased to have anything to gossip about, since he's never been known to bring guests to church.
        "I don't see my family over the holidays proper," he told me, in that voice richer than the scent of microwaved chocolate. "I visit them in the winter, but only after most of the parties are over. It wouldn't do to be unavailable, in my line of work, when men need Nice Suits." He smiled at me, as usual. I nodded. That's another thing. He alters suits, sells suits, you know, the haberdashery thing. If that isn't a deceptively innocent profession, I don't know what is. Certainly not that of the plumber. When I was a kid, I didn't even know there was such thing as a Maintenance Man. He was as elusive as Saint Nick.
        "Mamma, is there really a Maintenance Man?"
        "Yes, Dear," replies the harried, but oh-so-softly expressioned Mother.
        "And he comes when we're gone and fixes the shower?"
        "So the legend goes."
        We saw about as much of the Maintenance Man as we did of the Jolly Elf. About as much of the results of his passing, too. And when I finally _do_ witness the Arrival of the Plumber, I freak and try to decorate the overpass for Christmas because it just costs too damn much and there's no one to talk to and I can't take the truths piling up anymore.
        Carmel says he has a Family. He knows people in church, too, and in his Lapine Pride group. Lapine Pride. He asked me to join. I protested that I'm not even a rabbit.
        "There'd be such a scandal!"
        He laughed. "But you do look like one, you know, with the ears..."
        "And when the truth got out..." I grinned.
        "I think it'd be good for you. Have more people to talk to besides me and Susan."
        Susan's another member of the group, not lapine either. A Norm. I have to give her a gold star in my brain's section on loyalty for the fact that she told me what I am.
        I shrugged. "Yeah, maybe." I smiled a little to let him know that was a 'yes'.
        He hasn't probed that far yet... Not yet... But what if he does? Won't that just prove what I know already? He's not genuine. He can't be. But-- but-- what if he _is_? What if against all laws of relating to men there actually is such a thing? If he knows it all, then, there won't be any reason for him to ask, or pursue me, any further.
        And, much as I am a flighty bitch, I rather like this brand of pursuit. I want him to like me. So I can pretend that he's genuine and that if he is he'd want me.
        Fuck it, who needs him if he doesn't want me? Screw him over a bridge, too. I got me and my talent and my audience.
        I squirm a little on the couch. The place looks hardly used, even though he lives in it. Even a sit-com set looks more realistic. The guy is loaded. Freaking rich, compared to me.
        He looks around the room, not having to move much to do so, since he has big unsweetened-chocolate eyes set on either side of his head, just like I do. Unsweetened chocolate? There has to be a better descriptor. But they're dark, just not as black as mine... I dunno. My style's off. He's flustering me.
        I'm pretty calm for being so flustered.
        "I should put up a tree. Maybe, if you promise to keep visiting through next Christmas, I'll buy one next year."
        I cock my head noncommittally. "Eh."
        He chuckles. See, I can do that to people.
        He moves his hand to my shoulder and cups the sorta boney protrusion. So I'm a skinny bitch. So sue me.
        He keeps feeding me at those high-falutin' restaurants like he did tonight, we'll have that fixed _right_ up.
        Actually, Carmel's hands are more like paws. They have fingers about like a rabbit's; you don't see 'em on bunny paws, but when he bends them you can tell they're separate parts. And then he has a thumb on each paw. I'm glad for my hands. Especially since one is still healing up after my little escapade. But he seems to get by all right with his. Fuck yeah, he does. Think about it. He's doing better than most of us.
        He's still smiling at me. "Worried that I'll lure you into a relationship with me and you'll be stuck watching-- gasp-- Monday Night Football?"
        I almost grin, but I bite the inside of my mouth and say nothing. He knows just what I'm thinking. Suddenly it occurs to me that by _not_ answering I'm letting him know that I'm distracted and now--
        "Why was there no one to talk to, that night? Mara."
        I sag. His hand follows my shoulder in its downward curve. Don't bother, Will Robinson. We're all already screwed.
        I lean in towards his neck. Please don't pry into this, Carmel. Let me just do this... I want to try something.
        Of _course_ I know this is just my way of avoiding the question. You think I don't know that? But at the same time everything about him is taking over. More than that, it's me, my reactions that defy all good sense. (So what else is new, right, Miss Aspiring Bumper Sticker? But never mind that. I'm a changed woman.) I know full well that he's a dangerous creature, this tall rabbit man, and I still lean in towards him with my sort of flat mara muzzle wrinkling lightly in a circle of his scent and twitching at the tickle of the tips of his fur.
        Don'tcha like that. Just look at us. It's a fucking government conspiracy, I tell you. Color coded and alphabetized. It's for the convenience of their sinister plots. SCABS isn't a real disease-- it's like-- one of those kids' sticker-books with the dotted lines, only the government fills it in on real people.
        I just came up with this, but it's a really good theory. Check it out. Mara, mara. Some sort of South American rodent and it _has my name_. Susan told me, else I never woulda known. Long blonde ears and a fuzzy little weak chin and clawed hands, and I could hop like a bunny if I cared to. Carmel, caramel. His fur is like his name. Coinkydink? _You_ be the judge.
        I want to try to want you, Carmel. And I do. It's so damn easy. I still don't say anything, and he doesn't either. _Gawd_, he's too good at shutting up. I didn't even hardly notice the music on the multimedia feed system until now, probably just when he wanted me to notice it. The lyrics of all the popular love songs are so audible, but it's not too loud to be intrusive.
        His timing has got to be too good to be true.
        More than that, it's me again, and my own natural vulnerability. It's just that. I'm a woman, out of a day job, not paid enough for what I do, and here's this _tall_, deep-voiced, _freaking rich_ _man_ who feeds me and calls me up to see how I'm doing and invites me into his place to talk and get to know each other... Do you know how scary that is? Not to have him try anything on me? It's too perfect a set-up. Like he has to have ulterior motives. I mean, doesn't it make sense that even if he _is_ an okay kind of guy, I'm just head over my big boney heels because he is just the sort of protector anyone in my situation would want?
        I shrug, even as I think to myself, but I feel myself sinking in closer towards him. He moves over and places one arm around my shoulderblades, reaching up with those fingers and touching the back of my neck. I lean first one side of my face and then the other against him, below his chin, closing my eyes when his fur brushes my eyelashes.
        He wants to pull back just a little, ask me the question again, but I have him effectively stopped for the moment. He doesn't want to stop me from doing what I want, what I'm asking for.
        We rub against each other for awhile, our fur when it meets interlocking in what feels like little hugs. He is holding me, arms settled firmly around my torso, and I can smell his suit and the room and the warmth of the plastic of the audio appliances in the room, but mostly just him. His breath is sweet. It smells some of the Italian food we just ate about an hour ago, but that's sweet too. Damn, they had good garlic bread.
        "If you don't trust me, you don't have to tell me. I wouldn't blame you," he murmurs, brushing the fur of the bridge of his nose against mine.
        I blink up at him, taking my time. "Aren't you too good to be true?"
        "Me?" He smiles, lifting a bit of lip so that his white teeth show on one side. "Hardly. That is, I am really a bastard. I'm luring you into my house to listen to soft rock and watch football, and when you have finally succumbed to my well-dressed charms I shall reveal my bastardy side."
        I smirk. Then I realize I don't have anything smart-ass to say. "Aren't you hiding anything?"
        "Like what?"
        How can a grown man look so innocent? I sigh, almost helplessly. "I don't know, Carmel, _you're_ supposed to know."
        "I'll level with you. A lot of people respect me, but not very many really like me. I may not be the sort of person you want for intimate company."
        "That's not what I'm looking for. Fuck, Carmel, these sorts of stories don't exist. That you're a 'real person with flaws' doesn't cut it. You're netting me here with your perfect looks and your perfect answers and that never happens without there being a deep, dark secret."
        He flicks an ear. "What do you suppose mine is?"
        Before he's even done talking, I realize that I haven't been speaking about him at all. It's me. Only that's not fair. I don't look too good to be true. I'm not anything but a bitch comedienne rodent-girl with... nothing. No family. Piss-poor job. And he's asked, in a way, about...
        Well, not really. He's asked me about why there was no one to talk to, that night. No way but the highway. I don't have to mention the _whole_ truth. Besides, my heart is kinda getting into gear, here. Faster beats than I'm used to, and I like it. My nostrils are pumping lightly, too, and he's very warm to hold onto.
        I press closer to him, furry cheek on furry cheek. He moves to reciprocate.
        "Oh, Carmel, I wouldn't know..."
        He breathes on my left temple. "Just thought I'd ask. I like to know what evil I'm up to. Whatever happened, by the way, to my affair with my housekeeper?"
        That was one of the first sinister secrets I presented him with. He loved it.
        I tilt my head. "It grew uninteresting."
        "Oh?" He chuckles, deeply. "Not exactly good for the ratings?"
        "Nope." I bump against him, making him hold me closer and press his claws into my upper arms. I stay hidden beneath the pursuer's own arms and chin, thinking fast before I look up at him again. I needn't really tell him the whole truth...
        Before I've lifted my head all the way, Carmel has begun to enclose the bases of my ears in his hand-paws and rub the short, soft fur there. The effect begins to be felt down under, so to speak. The same light sensation is repeating in a few other places on this body of mine.
        Carmel lowers his fur-trimmed lips to mine. I know what he's going to do; he offered me a kiss once before and I accepted. Your basic one-second's worth, on the lips, with one hand on my cheek to steady me-- in case I should swoon or anything, I guess. Maybe I would have fallen off balance without that hand and he would have been held liable if I broke my skull.
        He begins kissing me. It's so light, I know he knows what he's doing to me; he's _deliberately_ making me wait for it, the bastard. I can feel him brushing me and only a few parts of my dithered brain are even marginally aware of the petting his hands are doing over the back of my head and my shoulders. It's all a Goddamn calculated seduction act.
        Of course, it's working like a charm. I open my mouth about the width of his lower lip, waiting, and he finally sinks into the kiss and begins moving his lips and tongue over mine. I think about it for awhile, trying to be rational instead of all this _feeling_, but all that comes up rationally is, "Fuck, Mara, kiss the man."
        I do. I touch the tip of my tongue to each piece of his mouth. We're warm, our warmth is coming back at us mixed with each other's heat. It's a long, slow kiss. I forget to think about it much until he stops, just before I would have. I start to look up at him indignantly, when it-- hits me. Damn. He wasn't just kissing me... I was kissing him. Each other. Fuck. We were kissing each other.
        I could have sworn I had this look packed away in some Zip-loc Baggie part of my mind, but it escapes without even any alarms set off to warn me, and he sees it. He knows. I must look about as wide-eyed and star-struck as any rich kid on Christmas morning. I think I'm about to start blubbering. No, I'm not. I am far too sophisticated for blubbering. Instead, I'm going to sit here with my mouth hanging open, staring at him as if he just grew wings.
        He just returns my gaze, remarkably intelligently, damn him for having the upper hand, and his arms stay solidly around me.
        He smiles, faintly.
        The music is playing, ludicrously-paid artists (like I intend to be some day, in my own black-comedic way) doing their thing with lyrics that I know are meant to melt my heart like a marshmallow but which are working on me anyway.
        Not a word between us, for several moments.
        It's too late, now. Too late for me. But I can't tell him that. He doesn't know what I'm capable of... Or was capable of. Never again. You don't know what it's like to be incapable of something until you've done it once and felt the change in your gut, worse than SCABS, worse than loneliness and worse than the car passing you up on your one best chance for a suicide.
        Well, shit. I can't suspect him any more, even though I have to pretend that I could. And I can't tell him enough to scare him away. So, I have to tell him enough so that he'll let me continue. His scent as I experience it is beginning to take on a tinge of raw sex under that decorous pine-like whiff.
        I take off my jacket. I may as well make it clear I intend to stay awhile.
        I lean into him, head against his chest, and begin fingering carefully at the upper edge of his slacks where I can get hold of his white shirt and untuck it for him. I pull his shirttails out and touch the fur on his side, nothing between my palm and his torso. He breathes in, sharply and deeply. Well, he likes that, anyway. So do I. I glance up at him. As soon as he catches my eye, he speaks.
        "What was wrong that you didn't have anyone to go to, that night, Mara? You had a family, sometime. What happened to them?"
        God, yeah, what happened to them. You want to know? No you don't. But I'll tell you another story, another story of my pitiful idiocy like the broken toilet. A little bit more of my lurid autobiography.
        Suddenly, I am distracted from the imminence of more South-side shit-hole confessions. This man and this place are too rich for things like that to be able to reach here. His mouth is close. I reach up and begin licking his muzzle, my chest getting caught into the same quick, needy rhythm of my tongue.
        Carmel reciprocates. His tongue tastes different when I touch it on different places. I shut my eyes and breathe to fuel more kissing and just keep on. He's holding the back of my skull, stroking the fur, so I reach up and do the same for him. He makes a sound, not a word, just a sound; it is a flattering comment on my hands' touch.
        I can't taste enough of his mouth at once. I don't know just when he begins to slow down, but eventually I can no longer ignore that he's exerting a bit more pressure on my shoulders, asking me silently to cease kissing and look at him.
        Reluctantly, I do so. His eyes are clear and just a little demanding.
        "Are you sure you want this? I mean... I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't exactly trust me, and now..."
        "I--" I lick my muzzle-sides. "I-- never really wanted it before. I never..."
        He looks surprised, but maybe a little hopeful. His hot scent is so thick in my nostrils that changes are readable, but all layered up on each other. He smells like warmed mint.
        "And... do you now? Want it, I mean?"
        "Yes." I try to kiss him again, but he turns me aside with a palm cupped under my chin, just allowing a slight brush of our whiskers together.
        "Tell me something. Please. You don't have to, I know that. But I-- don't feel comfortable with this unless I know where you're coming from. Please. Understand that I don't mean I don't want it. I do, very much. I just want to know that you're really okay with it."
        I lick his hand, lightly. I look down at the carpet with its straight lines left in the unexplored vacuumed territory. "It was a phase I went through. For a few months in high school."
        Before I left high school and everything else that mattered to me.
        "What was?"
        "Just... He wasn't important to me. It was a fling, it wasn't anything. He didn't mean anything to me."
        Carmel touches the indentation behind my eye, petting the fine hairs. "But..." I can tell he's struggling with whether to make an assumption and just charge on, or pussyfoot around the issue. He might as well out with it. I'm used to all the damned assumptions. I'll correct him right quick if he pegs anything wrong. At least he's here where I can fly right back in his face if he shits me. Don't get that option with too many people. Have to do it whether they're there to appreciate it or not, on stage.
        "But, wasn't your virginity important to you?" He has decided to charge ahead, and it's a doozy of a question. I chew on my lip and mull it over.
        I finally shake my head, almost imperceptibly. "Like I said, it was a phase I went through. I thought... that if I let a man... have everything he wanted, then he would-- you know-- love me."
        "It didn't work out like that."
        "Fuck no. _Fuck_ no."
        I almost wrench my arm out of his grasp to make my point, but there's really no need. I tense up, but then I go limp and poor-postured and look at the way the furniture shadows fall on carpet. If I had a carpet, maybe the shadows in my apartment wouldn't look so harsh.

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