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The Shore Line
Angelo, ever the groomer, is himself well-groomed. His shirt and slacks are patently unwrinkled, his short hair is entirely in place and his shave appears impeccable, although I may be off since my eyes aren't what they used to be. He moves his lips over his teeth uncomfortably, trying to appear casual and yet proper in my office. His eyes flick from wooden desk to tiles to desk-foot to his shoe to my wrist. He waits for me to speak, aside from the greeting nod and murmur of "hello" he gave when he came in.
"I can tell you're nervous," I offer.
He does smile slightly. "It's just that I don't often find myself the client. I'm used to being the groomer."
I might as well go right into what I think of in association with that. "You're not used to being the client." I lean forward. I am now behind the desk, as Angelo seems most comfortable with a conventional meeting. "You don't, for example, seek counseling in your town?"
"No. I suppose this is about the drinking."
I nod. I'm glad to see he's as straightforward in person as he has been over email.
"I'm sorry," he says, and I can hear a trembling there. He seems likely to say more, but for some time he does not. I prompt him slowly.
"Are you apologizing to me?"
He pauses. "Yes. To you, Chris. I'm sorry for you having to listen to Laurie hurting and knowing I'm part of that, and then having to support me because of her. I know she'd do anything for me."
"It's all right, Angelo." His hand is on the edge of the desk, and I place my paw over it. He presses his thumb up over one of my foretoes, accepting the presence without looking at the paw. He seems distracted, but contact with 'morphs comes naturally for him. "Laurie's chief concern today is that she fears she would _not_ do 'anything' for you. Do you follow?"
"Of course I follow. That kid..." Suddenly the quietly nervous man is standing up and speaking loudly enough that I lay my ears back. His free hand thrusts out angrily at the door behind him and his eyes are still on me. "That _girl_, _woman_, _Laurie_ has-- what he-- God put your ears up, Chris. Listen to me. I'm not mad at _you_. Can you _see_ this though? That _woman_, _Laurie Brewer of all people_, has to go through the rest of her life worrying that she's hurting me because of what _he did to her_."
"I know." I notice that Angelo's intensity has not changed the pressure of his grip on my paw. He seems to regulate it outside of the conversation. "I know. I've... thought about him uncharitably, to say the least, many a time."
Angelo stands and shivers. He's frowning at me, because he can't think what to say next that will convey all that his scent is already flooding into my nostrils.
"Sit down, please, Angelo."
He sits, abruptly. He growls under his breath. I do the same, if only to show sympathy. He makes eye contact cautiously from under his reddish lashes.
"Now." I rub his hand in what I hope is a comforting way. "You know what she's talking about to me, then, when she says she's unable to do right by you. Angelo, she also feels responsible... for your drinking. At least in part. About how often do you drink?"
"Oh God," he mutters somewhat apologetically, rolling his shoulders in acknowledgment of some inevitable points. "Not often. But too often. I _know_. I _know_," he protests, although I haven't said anything.
"For Goodness' sake, I finally quit smoking right before I changed. How was I supposed to know? I'd be damned if I'd go back _there_, but then what else is left open to me? So yes. I do drink. Not so much now, but a hell of a lot right when I got the disease. Before I made some connections that helped me. But no, you're right, I haven't made a point of getting counseling."
"Angelo, it's not my place to tell you what to do, but I also can't help you in the way you and Laurie may need. Please, for her sake and your own, join a support group. Maybe one for couples with SCABS isssues, as well. It might make a huge difference for her, moving to Pennsylvania when she knows you have steps in place to make this work out."
Angelo looks at me, nearly smiling. He seems to find my eyes behind the glasses after a bit and smiles more certainly. "Chris, you're married."
"Why, yes." I wonder momentarily what this has to do with the conversation.
"Do you ever find that all this... this connecting with people about their problems, makes you feel like it's all you? I don't mean all _about_ you, I mean all you. You're married. And for each connection in which you combine a couple more thoroughly you're cementing that part of yourself which is able to _be_ married. You don't get the point," he finishes, wondering himself whether he's gotten far afield.
"No I... think I understand. To be perfectly honest, I'm not sure. I-- do think there is maybe something to all couples, even all people, being the same person or couple over and over. But whether I've _seen_ that in my volunteering, in what I put into it, I don't know."
"Ah." Angelo nods and glances off towards the computer, shifts a bit more comfortably than before in the heavily scented chair. "But if I were you. You were Laurie. Whatever. If you were her, you'd want me to get the counseling."
"Perhaps you can tell me why I wouldn't."
"Because. It's admitting we 'can't' do it ourselves."
"No one lives in a vacuum," I reply automatically.
"Oh, I know. I just think that's why we're all so keen on asserting our independence wherever we feel we can find it. I'm... sort of preaching at you now, aren't I. This was supposed to be about my being honest."
"Saying what you feel is honest," I tell him, my voice hoarse but relaxed in tone.
He looks over his shoulder at the door. He does not stand up, but his throat twitches as he seems to think something over.
"I'll tell you what I feel."
I nod slightly, turning my ears forward.
"I feel sick. The night she heard about the suicide, she had been in one of her moods where she only wanted the living room to herself, didn't want to sleep with me. We... well, we don't actually 'sleep together' in the sex sense of the word. We try to sleep in the same bed whenever she feels comfortable with me, so that she can learn to feel all right with me. The sex thing is something else entirely."
I nod. Angelo has written to me in email about his efforts to build up Laurie's confidence. He's indulged her fascination for fish transformations by offering a Christian fish pin, and has discussed masturbation with her. I did not know they had not yet had conventional intercourse, but I knew she was attempting to practice enjoying touch. For the longest time she's been afraid even of herself.
"Anyway, she was on the computer List with a bunch of her friends and someone came in and broke the news. I think one of the guy's friends was there and had to leave in shock. Laurie stayed on and talked to Gabriel, thank God he was there, but it wasn't enough. So she grabbed up the afghan off the sofa and came in by me and Sable, who also scares her sometimes when he's boisterous, he's a pretty large Poodle, and carried it like a security blanket by her mouth. She just came in the room like a little _girl_ and crawled in with me and sobbed and begged me to tell her if I would ever want to change and eventually told me she was afraid I'd kill myself.
"And do you know _why_ she's afraid I'd kill myself?"
Angelo's soft expression contains blazing eyes. He continues to gesture towards the door when he talks about Laurie, and our warm paw-connection has not changed.
"She's afraid because the last man she was ever with up and _died_ on her because she had to _protect_ herself from him."
I sit quietly. He knows at this point that my lack of disagreement is an agreement of sorts.
"And I'll tell you... I scare myself sometimes. Because I've never ever considered myself to be a violent person. I control my temper fairly well, at least I've always thought I do. But I can hear it sometimes, even though I wasn't there, and I can see flashes of it as though she told me every little detail, but she's been too protective of my sensibilities to tell me every little detail. And I've never felt so near to what killers must feel. Murderous. As if I'd kill him myself and make sure it was worse, as if I want to get to him before she ever did and tell him he _won't_ _get_ _off_ _so_ _easy_. And the worst of it is...
"She's afraid of me. Who knows. I have clients who never experienced any form of abuse, I know others who don't even have SCABS, whose minds are just as prone to fear as hers is. Just because 'someone else' caused it doesn't mean I'm not to blame. How can someone who terrifies her be good for her? Why can't I find the right kind of setting for her, why can't I never want to touch her when she doesn't want it? Why can't I know what's going to make her upset?"
"In all fairness, Angelo, even she doesn't know sometimes."
"But then it's my _responsibility_ to _find out_."
"Ah," I say, feeling hopeful. "Then go ahead and do that. Tell her what you just said to me. _Ask_ her to help you find out. You see that if no one like you was there when the fear arose, the situation really would 'be no good', although I don't like the connotations of that phrase. But there you are. You're there and you can help. Ask her to realize when it is that this stuff happens. Recognize it yourself. If there's one thing your profession must entail, Angelo, it's observation. You're probably excellently equipped to deal with a being, a person like Laurie."
I pause for a moment. "I fear I may have overstepped my bounds."
"Chris, if you were a friend rather than a so-called 'counselor', you would in no way be overstepping your bounds by making these suggestions. I consider you a friend of Laurie's, and I've been impressed with some of what you've said in the past. I can make my own decisions. Just because you say something doesn't mean I have to do it. So, thank you. These are things Laurie might not have had the confidence to tell me. Sometimes she... admires so much that someone loves her, she feels like there are no corrections to be made. But there are corrections. We all know I can't go on forever being ineffectually pissed off at the _deceased_ Mr. Brewer."
Angelo spits the word 'deceased'. He seems to hand a human title to the man with a very grudging air.
"I suppose it's hard," I say, trying to think before I speak, because I'm on touchy ground.
"Hard to give up on him a little bit. Because... well, I'm thinking about this now, and I'm seeing that we both tend to feel extremely strongly about that particular example of humankind. And I might be seeing why that is, now, when I'm listening to you. We both appreciate Laurie. She's smart and sweet and attractive, and I have felt honored to work with her and you wish to live with her permanently. And what _was_ the man after all? He was, biologically anyway, her father. There it sits. And he's dead. And no matter how we show affection for his daughter, we can't get the father out of our minds because she _is_ his daughter. What father wouldn't want love and respect for his daughter? We've given him a gift."
I feel a little ill about it, myself. Angelo seems startled, but calm. Aside from his cologne, his scent is overall cooler than Laurie's.
"You're making me a bit sick with that, Chris," he admits. "The very idea. Mm..maybe you're right though. It's... it's troubling, forgive me if I sound hesitant. But it's difficult to forgive. Of course. To let anything about that _go_. But she has, you know. It's we that haven't. She just enjoys what she has. But we can't help feeling, whenever we share more of ourselves with her, like there's something worse that should have happened to him. And maybe that's why. You may be right, we may be afraid he's still gaining something from our love for his daughter."
I huff slightly. "Any ideas as to what to do about it?"
"Hm. Well, maybe she's not really his daughter. I mean, maybe we have to just deny him that. I think you and I have talked before about what it means to be family."
"That we have." I lean back a bit and flex my paws, and Angelo does the same with his fingers. "Deny the relationship, eh? We cannot deny the man himself, or what happened. But maybe he never gained anything from her at all. Not anything we'd consider really valuable."
"No. Certainly not. No one who valued her would do something like that."
"I feel that you value her, Angelo."
The groomer glances at me uncertainly. "Is that a routine bucking-up?"
I shake my head. "No. I've been trying to think of something to say to inspire you, but I knew it had to be honest. I'm being sincere, even if I am calculating what I say."
"Chris, thanks for that. You know? Thanks for thinking about this so much. I know that's part of what Laurie sees in you, even though she probably thinks it's just that you're a bear." He grins at me.
I grin back, lifting my flews. "Ready-made emotional support."
"I'm glad you're here. She couldn't have come to a better counselor."
"How's it going otherwise? Have you made other progress?"
"Well..." Angelo tilts his head down and I think I detect a mild blush. "Yes. Honestly, yes. She's been letting me... 'TF' her, as she puts it. In the shower. For effect. Fish, you know."
"TF. Fish? Oh, as in..."
"As in 'turning her into one'. Sort of a fantasy."
"She seems to have had some fears about occurrences on the List lately. How do you feel about that? We've talked about her reactions to it, about her coming to you. I believe you'd be honest with her, so I'm not concerned at this time about your being maladjusted to your SCABS. Not that I'd blame anyone who was. How do you feel about the List in general? Have you been on it?"
"No. Not really. She just tells me what's been going on. I know one of the other guys on it, since I do make-up at times for the theatre where he works. As for how I feel about it... I don't know. It's a strange feeling to me, the idea of someone _wanting_ to change into something so completely different from what they see themselves to be. Or rather, what others see them to be. Have you talked to many others like Laurie?"
"Only Gabriel, and only briefly, in a different setting. Laurie's interests might be more familiar to me because she's had to share so much about her physical experiences. Can you tell me... Whether you believe she would undertake a transformation, if one became available? Aside from transgender surgeries, what if some technology should arise that would make it _possible_ for her to shift into a different species? Have you thought about the consequences of that?"
"Yes." There is no hesitation. However, he does not continue.
He sighs. "Chris, I don't know what you want me to say. It seems so ridiculous. But I've certainly thought about it. How would I know what to feel? There's no way for me to know what _kind_ of technology it would be or what it might mean for her."
"I don't mean to pressure you. Angelo, if Laurie could shift. If she was handed the opportunity to turn into a fish, what would be your reaction? I know-- you don't know what the technology would be. Can you give me an instant, gut reaction?"
He licks his lip. "Yes, of course. My answer would be Yes, of course."
"That's your first reaction?"
He nods, firmly. "Yes."
"Do you believe she would be happy if she could transform according to her fish-transformation fantasies?"
"I do. Otherwise I would not say yes. I think I could say yes because I believe she would be thrilled. I don't understand it, but I know it of her. She'd truly like to change into a different animal."
"And..." I don't want to toy with the man's emotions, but it might be worth it to get some conversations rolling between him and Laurie, "if it were to kill her?"
He does not react as I would have expected. Instead, he is silent and white for a long time, then replies, "The answer stands."
"Come on Chris, you know why. You know why. If she wanted to do it, I'd want nothing more than for her to do it. Even if it _did_ kill her, yes." There are tears in his eyes. More than I'd expected from a hypothetical question. Sometimes I wonder... I don't realize sometimes what realities others are existing in right alongside me. This is something _real_ to Laurie. Of course Angelo has had to seriously consider it. But it never occurred to me the emotional battle that such a question might set off. I'm sure other questions would affect me more than they would him, but this time I've touched a nerve and I was the one who didn't anticipate there being any pain or any serious thought.
"You're... pondering it now, aren't you," I apologize to him. "You can envision her dying for it."
"Of course I can." He frowns at me and snatches at his eyes to make it appear as though he is not crying. "You don't realize how much that girl wants this kind of thing. And who knows, who really knows, it could happen at any time. They could offer it at any time and _then_ what? And then what."
He wipes his eyes and folds his hands, controlling his expression in a mild frown. "Chris."
"She's afraid of you, you say. You say you do her no good if you can't make her free of that. She says she's no good to you if she can't free herself of that and never show you fear."
"She's said that to you."
I nod, my glasses slipping down my nose at the motion. I replace them. "She has.
"You see that she believes you love her enough and you believe she loves you enough."
"She's generous. She's like that."
"And you see what you would let her do."
He looks at me, a bit hard. "I wish I didn't have to admit to all this when it'd sound so stupid almost anywhere else. Think about it. A fish. On _purpose_. For her _life_."
"And you'd never turn back from 'Yes, of course.'"
"Yes. Of course."
"She's terrified to go to Pennsylvania with you. You know that."
He tightens. "I know."
"I don't mean it that way, Angelo," I assure him hastily. "Listen and think. It might be something to tell her on the way there. She might not be able to overcome these things for you, but she's comfortable enough with you to try. She's spent nights expressing to you, bringing up what she must think are childish fears but doing it anyway because she won't be anything but honest with you. You must be worth a great deal to her for her to love you and stay with you despite fear-- fear of you, perhaps, but most especially fear of your _loss_. Imagine if she lost you. But she's going with you anyway. And you. You're taking her to your home and you don't know when she might depart from you, either. You might want to think about that."
"Yes." Angelo ponders the desk for awhile. "Yes. Thank you. Thank you, Christopher. I... Well, I can't promise I'll tell her all this on the trip. I just don't know. You've made me shy of her, in a way. Not you exactly, but I'm just overwhelmed by... Well, by what there is to her. I'm not sure what to do from here."
"That's all right. I'm just glad we've spoken."
"As am I," he says sincerely, rising. He reaches to shake my paw with a warm grip. "Thank you. In one way or another, this has been valuable. We appreciate it."
"I do as well, Angelo. This has been a distinctly more interesting afternoon than it would have been alone with my carbon fill-out forms."
He grins. "Glad to hear it. Although I'm not sure whether you're just being polite. I would think carbons would be a bit easier to get along with. Much less mercurial. Say, speaking of afternoons and alone, maybe next time you've got time to spare you should sneak out and go see your spouse. You know, just give some of the counseling time to yourself. I bet they'd hardly miss you as long as no one had a midafternoon crisis."
I smile. "It's a nice thought, but he sleeps days."
"Ah." Angelo nods to me and begins to head out the door. "You could just sort of sleep with him, then." He adds, slightly teasingly. "Warm bodies are nice 'activity' or no 'activity'."
I grin. "I get the point. Thanks. Give Laurie my best. Take care, Angelo."
Then he's gone. I glance just briefly at the scattered schoolwork, and get a whiff of the layers of two added people and my emotions of the afternoon settling into the office's collection.
I shrug. Maybe I'll take his suggestion.