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part 2
by Feech

        Carmel pulls me up against him and rocks me slowly, in time to that music again. They just keep on playin' it. All the romantic shit.
        I pull out the other side of his shirt and place both my hands underneath, rolling handfuls of his furred skin in my palms. He makes another complimentary sound and lowers his head to the pit of my shoulder, running his hands over my shirt. Doesn't he know he could reach underneath mine, too? I hint at it by bringing my hands back around front and brushing his nipples with my fingers.
        Like the obedient, sexy man that I have him pegged for, Carmel gradually works my shirt out from its place crumpled in between my pants and my short-tailed ass and begins running his hands over my skin and fur.
        I lay him down on the couch. He's watching my face, touching me every place I touch him, and I can smell plainly that he wants this, but I don't care for the caution he's exercising. Don't tell me you're going to ask for more stories, Carmel. I don't think I need to tell you the rest. Not to enjoy this. Damn, I want this.
        "I never... really..." I kiss him again. Both our mouths are moister this time. "... wanted this."
        He appears a little sheepish. "I never really had this."
        A few minutes ago I would have thought he was shitting me if he said that, but I don't figure he is. Either way, makes no difference. But at the same time I shrug it off mentally, in the back behind the shrugging is this joyful bouncing-up-and-down giddy little completely sugar-buzzed girl shrieking, 'He likes me! He really likes me or he wouldn't do it the first time with me!'
        We work at massaging each other's backs and shoulders and napes of necks and he presses his chin over the back of my neck and my head, occasionally stopping to nibble my hands or check out my breasts. Oh, yeah, right, all of a sudden, Miss High-and-Mighty Mara LeSard, your tits have become 'breasts.' Like because you have a man like Carmel Sherwood touching them you've somehow become this snobby-ass society chick with people giving a fuck about your looks. There isn't much there for tits, anyway. But Carmel finds them and what there is of them sends delighted little telegraphs to my brain about the results.
        I reach into the Realms below his wrinkle-free garments and find that he does, indeed, have a tail-- a short and very silky one. Its silkiness is attached to bone and muscle and I begin to gently rub it, which seems to please him. Parts of me he's not even touching are growing fairly hot.
        I take a minute to pant and catch the wetness of my mouth before I reach to kiss him again; as soon as I back away I know I want to take my shirt all the way off. I glance at him, but not for long and not really waiting to see if he wants me to or not. He's not exactly cold and disinterested, either.
        I begin to pull the cotton tee up over my face, and he lets go so I can. Still he has to go and ask, "Mara, are you sure you want this?"
        I just nod. I thought we had that _done_ with, Carmel. No, see, I just go around stripping in men's homes as part of a demonstration on rodent control. Can you control this rodent? Did you know that rats multiply like metal coat hangers? What other naked females are chewing holes in your woodwork this very moment? _Fuck_ yeah, I want this!
        He wraps his arms around my bare torso, but I still feel a question. He kisses me on the forehead, with a little lick, but there's something holding him back.
        Then, he sighs. Damn. He's going to ask something else. I almost feel the tears coming, before I let them know how horrified I am at their appearance and they slink back where they came from. Not now. He doesn't have to know how upsetting this can be.
        "What happened?"
        I try to enclose his mouth in mine, but he's taller and, at the moment, more determined than I am. I'm on the edge of something I've felt before, close to despair, and I don't know if I can fight it and come out on top. Maybe if I sort of just ride it and see if I get washed up somewhere safe.
        As soon as he sees that I'm not going to try too hard to avoid the question, Carmel settles in on his side with our ribs lined up to one another. He has his shirt off now, too, and I would like to be spending my time experiencing our chests touching without any interference of clothing or past mistakes. I stroke his lower back, but I'm frowning and distracted by those damn tears. They may have gone into hiding, but they're still peeking out of their little trenches, damn them.
        Carmel touches the crease of my chest. "Why wasn't your family available to talk to that night?"
        I duck my head into his masculine-smelling torso. There's nothing more to say but the last thing. There are always more jokes, there are more things to _say_, but for once, once and for all, there are no more ways to stall. I could say anything but the final truth and it would be the wrong thing. I don't think I could bear Carmel's expression becoming any more stern than it already is. He's sorry for stopping me, because he knows now that I want this.
        Why did I have to want this? Why couldn't I have stayed away from anyone who would care enough to ask? Damnit, I could have at least picked someone that _I_ didn't care about. It's when both people care that you get into trouble. But I never thought of that, and now it's too late. I care what he thinks, so that it hurts before I even tell him. And he cares about knowing me, knowing who he's holding, Goddamnit, so he hurts me by asking. He has this serious-gentle expression on his face like a war doctor in the movies. Going to set the leg and knows it's going to hurt like Hell.
        "Why me, Carmel?"
        He smiles, but still the concern is there for the answer I'm unable to truly avoid anymore. Asking a question isn't buying me any time. We both know, now, it's down to the one thing. Everything is related to it. The _why_ is related to it.
        "When Susan and I picked you up after your-- attempt. Right away, right then. You said we hadn't caught you at a good time; you were polite to us when others would have been angry, and you made sure we knew that lying there and crying wasn't something you'd usually allow yourself to be seen doing. That your appearances mattered to you, that at the same time anyone else mattered to you, impresses me. Appearances and people are important to me, too. And I admire you more the more I know you. You can make me laugh. I do appreciate that."
        I sniffle a little, holding back a cough as the things that I must say jumble into the back of my throat and wait their turns. I can't tell whether the tones of my own stifled voices are jeering, or angry, or wailing. "You're too damn... good."
        "Did I mention you are beautiful?"
        I shut my eyes, tight. "Carmel."
        He hovers just over my face, bending to blow a little breath over me where I'm still hiding in his chest. I can hear him almost begin to shush me, but he stops, as if fearing the sound might offend or startle me. Instead, he hugs me, speaking clearly: "You can tell me."
        There's nothing for it. If there were _no_ choices when I stepped out into that traffic, there are even _fewer_ choices now. The one I didn't know I had has cared about me into a corner. I feel my lungs locking onto the air they've got, as if I'm going to be sinking into deep water. My mouth, my forced-closed eyes, my hands in their frozen states right over his fur, even my throat, all clog up on me. I can't say a single word in any sort of respectable fashion. I have to whisper, and I have to do it fast, before even that is taken from me.
        "I shot 'im."
        Now, this man, with ears twice as long and just as sensitive as mine, leans in closer to my buried and stiffened mouth, and asks me, "Wh-- I'm sorry-- ?" And I know he's sorry, he sounds it and feels it all over, but damn it, Carmel, aren't you a rabbit for any reason at all? But I have to say it again, and a _third_ time. And still I haven't opened my eyes and my mouth is moving uncontrollably in mechanical doll like gaping. On the third whisper, he finally decides he's really heard me. His whole body goes stiff under my arms. Remarkably, his arms are still around me. I think I begin to see land. But can she make it in before she drowns? Oh God.
        "Who?" He asks.
        "M-- my brother."
        Carmel is definitely not relaxed. I couldn't have expected that, really. But there are traces of horror in his demeanor. No, please, Carmel, listen to the whole story. At least that. Don't shut me out now.
        Not that any amount of retelling could ever make it all right. I just want him to hear me out. As if maybe, in the time between its happening and this particular night there might have come some breakthrough that will make all the horror moot.
        He's still Carmel, and he's still asking.
        I try to draw in breath, but I'm not having much luck. I remember the scent of the highway-black powder that spread back out over my wrist, and I know it's too late to stop remembering, or telling, now. If he doesn't ask me for the whole story, I'll die trying to keep it in.
        Guns and cars have scents somewhat alike, I realize. Deadly and oily. Any kid on the South side could handle a gun. It was all one to us. All blackness and oil and ear-splitting noise was one and the same. It could kill you or it might miss. Who gave a fuck.
        I did. "He was going to-- hurt someone."
        I gnaw on the air, my jaws working on nothing. I'm seeing things in front of my closed eyes that I don't want to see. I want to look at Carmel's face, but I fear it. I've seen him angry, but never with me. My body begins to heave as if wind is whipping it.
        "Why aren't you crying?" His voice is so soft, I can't believe it's him for a minute. For a minute, I almost look up to see where I am. But it's Carmel, and when I can catch any inkling of scent from the air I can tell that his emotions are battering against the inside of his chest, too. But his voice is barely raised. He sounds like he's saying a prayer in his church.
        I shake my head desperately. "No. I don't-- want to."
        Still, his hands are over my frozen shoulders. "Where is the rest of your family? How did this happen?"
        "I-- we-- it was just-- just the two of us. Mom and the little brother had gone off to-- look for work somewhere. Mom tried she-- she tried--"
        Carmel strokes the side of my neck. The world has not yet ended. Maybe it's hanging on to make me suffer a little longer. Yet, I've opened the vault where I keep these things and out they came... If I say it all, is that any kind of release? I can almost imagine some sort of hope in the speaking of all this... this fucking shit I've brought upon _myself_, but what was I supposed to do? Like I had any fucking training. So I would have known how to use my gun arm. I tell you, I am a pretty good shot. If I was a fucking policewoman, I would've known how to be cool and shoot just right. But it's done. I couldn't believe how quickly such a thing could be done.
        "Do you know where she is now?"
        God_damn_ it Carmel, how can you be so smooth and collected? I don't know whether I'm glad he's still sane about it or whether to fear that this means he's left me, detached from this sharing; I couldn't blame him if he did. I rub a paw against his chest and feel the tightness. No, this isn't easy for him. He's working at it, hard. We're working together, then, for this instant. If he'd stay a moment longer. Did you hear me? _He was going to hurt someone else_. I was only a fucking kid. I _am_ only a fucking kid. I didn't know what else to do.
        "I don't--" I gasp, trying to remember how to pull air into my lungs and speak with it. You'd think I'd have instinct for things like breathing and heartbeat, but damned if it hasn't all fucking left me. "I don't know. I-- I ran away."
        "Do the police know? Does anyone know?"
        Now I do look at him. Don't you start with me, Carmel Sherwood. Don't you start any of this shit with me. Maybe you're rich and have a fucking huge house with carpeting and all that matters to you and maybe you _matter_ to other people but-- I realize I'm not saying any of this, just staring at him with eyes that are not tearing, thank God, so I start speaking: "I don't think you realize how many-- corpses-- litter the South side in that neighborhood. They only check it out if somebody cares. Nobody cares."
        "Your mother?"
        I shake my head, again. "I couldn't face her." My mouth crumples in on itself and I focus on his chestfur; anything but his huge eyes and the concern on his face.
        "So, to her, and to your youngest brother, you both disappeared."
        I nod. Sick but true. What can you do. I should have done something long ago. But I'm a bitch. Now it's a couple years I haven't seen her. For all she knows, we both got shot dead in a brawl or some drug episode we came up alongside of. But with me, there's not even a body to dig up rumors of. With my brother, there was a dead body. He bled, so at first I figured he was alive. But he was just bleeding out the rest of his time here. It didn't take long, and then there was _still_ a body. I don't think you understand what that's like, unless you've been there with your wrist burning from the powder and your brother that looks like you lying with his head up against a wall that's always been a roach haven and has all those cracks in it that suddenly look like an extension of the blood tracks on his shirt. He was _still there_.
        So there was only one thing left for me to do. I had to run. It was finished, but the body of the one piece of family I had left to me was lying there as he'd been flung back against the wall. His hand was loosely gripping the gun he'd been swinging around while he smoked something sick-sweet and mentioned out the side of his mouth how this one kid was gonna get it.
        "Don't," I said, leveling at him with the handgun. This was nothing new. It didn't even phase him. I'd threatened to shoot him plenty of times before. But that was always for sibling squabbles. It was never about him leaving, stepping out of my sight, and doing something to someone when I couldn't even see him. I knew I couldn't let him do that. I knew it.
        He chuckled. I was always so funny. Waving guns around like I was somebody's business. "Shit Mara, put that thing away."
        "You gonna kill the kid?"
        "Fuck yeah."
        It burned in me. I hadn't felt anything like that desperation. Not when Mamma walked away with the youngest of us to try and dig up a job somewhere, not when Ranny got sick on that fucking overdose of some cocktail he took and had shakes and fevers and said strange things to me and I tried to contact Mamma at the phone number she left and couldn't. It burned like a stove burn, like I'd leaned on fire with the heel of my hand, only it was all inside where there was no heart and no stomach; somewhere in between.
        "You better not."
        He laughed at me. "You're cute when you're angry."
        I almost relented. He'd heard that around from guys to their chicks and he knew I liked to be compared to a woman, even if I was his sister and would never be really pretty like the girls he saw some places when they were drunk and didn't know he was watching. He told me this stuff when _he_ was drunk. A curl of white smoke like something out of a smarmy Christmas movie drifted up from the roll in his mouth. It all looked so surreal, Ranny and I standing there with guns, the smoke, his cocky expression and the way we shivered because the air inside our condemned place was cold. It looked so surreal that I couldn't believe any other people really lived, anywhere, or that he could go out and hurt them. I pushed back some of the thick brown hair that had snuck up over my shoulder. I had unruly hair. It got in the way of my aim, so I instinctively pushed it back.
        "Little Sister, put the damn gun down."
        That was the first that I realized he had seen what I was feeling. Any other time, he would have walked out the door with never another look back. And I would have put the gun in a warped, dresserless dresser-drawer and that would have been it, until another day. But something told him. And at that moment, I could not relent. Because he saw it. It was there. And he was going to do something I could not let him do out of my sight. I couldn't be responsible for a death I wasn't even there for.
        "You ain't gonna do it, Ranny."
        He narrowed his eyes. He wasn't much older than me, really, but he was taller. He was still letting his gun swing on his finger. I didn't have quite the dexterity to do that. I held mine with both hands every time I picked it up. "Goddamn _fuck_ I am!"
        "Don't shout!"
        "DAMN! FUCK! I'll SHOUT if I Goddamn WANNA!"
        just like that.
        I didn't even expect to do it then. It was like he'd pulled the trigger himself.
        I stood over him with the gun still in hand, gaping at his chest, looking for breath or some other such dumb thing _God_ what the fuck was I thinking.
        He'd been standing close enough to the wall that he fell with his head propped up on it. I thought of calling the police. Then I remembered never to call the police. It was something we didn't do. I could kill everyone on the block if I called the police, I believed. They would come in firing and shouting and I didn't think I could take any more loud noises. And I didn't want to do anything else wrong. Where I came from, phoning the police was wrong.
        So I ran.
        "I'm sorry, Mara. Please listen to me. I have a fear of things being left undone. I have this sense of-- need, I guess, for 'Justice', and I just want to know that things are taken care of. Please let me know what I can do."
        It takes me about four ages to understand who this man is that is talking to me.
        "I-- nothing. There is nothing to do. I don't--"
        He curves a paw on either side of my face and regards me closely. I can see from his nostrils' movements how quickly his body is working to keep up with the emotions, the fear, but I'm not sure what he's fearing. There are too many scents just from the two of us here to even sort them out anymore. We've run the gamut and then some. It hasn't taken us long.
        "I'm afraid."
        That I knew. Me too. But you're not supposed to be afraid, Carmel. You're on top of things, all the time.
        "I guess I'm-- I'm-- I don't know." He pauses, holding me tight in a moment's worth of collecting himself. Neither of us has tried to break from the other, but I sense that he's wanted to jump up and pace the room more than once in just these few moments. Then, gently, "How old were you?"
        I almost can't hold the sobs back. It's hard not to cry when he's holding me so Goddamn gently. "Six-- sixteen."
        He nods. "Don't you want to contact your mother?"
        "I don't know where she is."
        "But I could find her for you."
        "Oh Carmel, I can't. I just can't. I can't-- I can't face her. How could I-- tell her--"
        "I know, I know, God I know, but there's all this left unfinished, let me help, please? I could hire someone to find out what's become of her and your other brother. You wouldn't have to do anything. I could try to sort some of this out, just try to see what I can do."
        I shake my head slowly, not to refuse, but just to show that I'm not even capable of answering that at this time. I look around the room, and find it the same as when I told him about the shooting. It's the same room. Nothing has changed. He's even holding me the same as before. I guess I never really knew I could tell this to anyone without it somehow-- happening again. But there's no bridge to that time a couple of years back except in my mind. Now he feels it, too. I can feel him shuddering. I know what's going on in his heart, in his chest. I've felt it and told it to him. But no one else died. It's still just-- just Ranny who's dead. I don't mean that as if it's not a big deal. But I wouldn't even be capable of going near doing something like that again. And, until now, speaking of it has felt Hellishly close to doing it.
        "Did you love him?"
        My lips curl painfully over my teeth. I force back tears and salt fluid that seems to spring into my nose and throat as soon as I hesitate to cry. I nod. "I kinda had no choice."
        "He was the only one you had."
        I rub against his body, which seems impossibly warm and real. He understands this as agreement with his statement.
        Yes. That's my name.
        "I just-- I want you to know-- I'm not trying to judge you. I guess... I don't know how to... I thought maybe I feared what you had done, but I don't even know... I know one thing I fear. It's the only thing that hurts me as much as I know I'm feeling right now. Mara, I don't want to be useless to you now. Now that you've told me this. This is such a big part of what means anything to you, and now you've told me, and what if I can never help you contact your mother and sort things out? What good am I to you then?"
        "Carmel. I."
        "Do you understand?"
        "Carmel..." Don't make me cry, you stupid man.
        "I'm sorry." He strokes the backs of my arms, touches my face right where there will be tears in a minute if he's not careful.
        "Do you-- forgive me?"
        "For what?" His voice is that smooth, deep tone again.
        "For-- ruining our night. For being this."
        He whispers. "Mara, you didn't ruin anything. I had to know this, or I couldn't have done what you wanted to do."
        "You knew there was something else, and it would have bothered you."
        The room is deathly quiet. It can be that, even with the musicfeed going on. Trust me. I've been in loud, deathly-quiet clubs, so I know. It's all in the meaning of the coughs and the shuffles.
        I rub sections of his fur between thumb and forefinger. "Mara."
        I nod, afraid to speak again.
        "Now that you've told me..."
        I find all the parts of my body that are involved in verbal communication, and set them up for employment again. It's quite a project. I cough a few times, clear my throat, and sniff-- without sobbing. My body aches from the dry sobs I've already felt. "If I-- decide to find her. If I use your resources. Will you--"
        "Of course," he is already saying, quietly, leaning over me in a protective arc. I continue.
        "-- be there, at least? Be there? I can't-- be alone-- I--"
        "Of course," again.
        "I-- need you."
        Damn, wasn't that trite; and now the sobs are back again.
        He lays his chin over my twitching ears and presses calming hands over my body, which suddenly feels small beneath him. "You're a wonderful person. I need you. I would be _glad_ to help you with anything I can. Please allow me to help."
        "Why would you do this for me?"
        He jerks a shoulder, lightly, then speaks. His voice is firm. "So, it could be a lot of shit. I could handle that. It could be work from Hell. So what, really, in the long run. I mean, think about it. If this is all you're going to throw at me, and in return I know you better, I say you're worth it."
        I almost want to say, 'Just shut up! You're lying. I'm not anything.' but it comes out, "Fuck it. I am _worth_ having a man like you." I draw his face down by mine. He accepts the kiss, sort of nodding at the same time.
        "Of course you are, if you want me, you know you are."
        "Of course I fucking am."
        I expected news like I had to give him to hang in the air of the room, to haunt the night, to foul it. But its existence is seeming to break up into particles around us. Of course, he knows. What is said cannot be taken back; what is done cannot, however awful, be undone. But he's not stopped existing with me. It hasn't smothered us just by my releasing it into our shared space. I don't really know what to make of it, whether to believe it. But my own most recent words are what ring most boldly in my head. I am worth it. He said so.
        I think, somewhere in me, that I have always known it. I knew I was fucking worth someone's time. No one else has just managed to be bright enough to see it.
        I think I'll keep this guy. I know I need him; I can't go back and fail to admit that, now. I meant it, even if it was trite the way it came out. But it may be just as important that he says he needs me. I can feel something in me lifting. I've kept these things inside for too long. I didn't know how much else was being weighed down in there, by it all.
        We simultaneously recall that we are each only half undressed. For one panicked moment as he begins to finish the job, I think that he's forgotten-- that none of this is genuine because he's not dwelling on it every moment since I've spoken it.
        "Yes, Mara?"
        He places a paw softly over my lips. "It's all right. I am not used to being faced with anything I can't see how to fix. My mind is going in circles working it out, but I'm still with you, here. I can't forget what we started sharing for, in the first place. Is this still what you need, tonight?"
        I nod, wordlessly, under his hand.
        He lifts his paw out of the way of his own lips.
        Suddenly it occurs to me that I can kiss him because I want to, not because I have to stall for time. The scents of his affectionate intent are rising to the surface of our awareness, again. A hundred snide comments on sex and fucking cross my mind, but not one of them seems to fit. I don't even feel like opening my mouth to talk, although my mood is invigorated as if I'm about to step on stage.
        Now shut out the lights, because traditionally I appear in the middle of a blacked-out stage, greeting the oh-so-vast Soho Club audience with a biting grin and a jab right under the first instant of spotlight.
        Now just leave those lights out until Saturday at nine P.M., when I will actually _be_ at the Soho Club for you eager masses to heckle or adore. Then, sneak your asses out in the dark. Just sort of stumble up the aisles and close the doors behind you.
        That's right. Perfect.

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