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The Garden
by Feech
Feech -- all rights reserved
 

I believe in lights.

Not Light, necessarily, anymore, but lights.

I work on the Light belief.

I work with lights.

I have to work on the Light belief, at least I try to, because all of a sudden when I got SCABS everything spiritual changed around in its meaning and the way I can incorporate the terminology...

Word. Light.

You can't have one without the other, I used to think.

I used to think they were one and the same.

When I got all ripped up and rearranged and put back together with SCABS, while I entertained strange dreams and I suppose a number of medical professionals did their best to save me, which they did, technically, I suppose, since my memories from before are for the main part intact, everything changed.

Everything. God, the universe, everything.

If Christ is the Word, I can't be the same kind of listener I was before.

And if there is Light, where does it have to come from? If it has to come from without, then Feech can't see it.

If I can't hear the Word, am I too taken that much farther from the Light?

If I don't believe in the Word, and the Light, which is where I now stand, then the only thing left is Feeling.

Vibrations of the Lord?

Does that count for Word?

And do the disease-induced colors that cross Feech's field of non-vision count as Light anymore than my lighting instruments' glow counts as Light?

Jesus healed the blind man.

Does that mean he had to be healed to see Christ?

And the deaf man healed, too, to go with Him?

But when we die, we all go somewhere.

I mean, if there wasn't a soul, I wouldn't remember anything. My whole dang body changed right around my consciousness.

I think. Unless I looked like this before. Unless SCABS is the removal of an illusion from which we all suffer... Unless my ears were nonexistent and my human life was one long dream and anything but vibrations in my lungs and head was imagined hearing, and all sights I see now are true, but all sights Feech saw then were false. If SCABS is the lifting of a lie, then I can't believe in Light and there is no Word to hear, because I was saved before I had my SCABS.

I don't talk about it much now.

I know what Teresa would say: that if God exists then He has his eye on the sparrow, and what's the difference between a sparrow and a SCAB?

I suppose that since I attest to the existence of my soul, and what she would say makes sense, then there's really no question.

But that whole "sparrow" thing is taking the Bible literally, and if you do that, then...

Let me see, it's Genesis, I believe I've got it memorized here... Let me get it...

"Then the Lord God said to the serpent: 'Because you have done this, you shall be banned.... I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel.'"

I believe I got that right, and the chapter is three, the book is Genesis, but I don't remember the verses.

Teresa says that the explanation for that, if it happened, is that-- get this-- Adam and Eve had a viper for a pet, one that they trusted, and because they trusted it a demon possessed it to use that trust against them.

Then she would tell me, if we were having this conversation and she were here now, that it doesn't matter anyway, because people are just trying to explain the natural mammalian fear of snakes with that passage.

Whatever.

It's lonely around here.

I know, I know, I get that way after every graduation and I always bounce back with the incoming new students needing this and that and putting on their shows and... I don't know; this year I remember my own graduation a lot. And it's been all summer and most of the Fall semester that they've been gone, and I'm still not really seeing and interacting with the new kids the way I used to.

What about the young group? The ones who didn't graduate with Feech? I don't know. I must admit... I didn't pay much attention to them.

I was too smitten with Feech.

Now almost the entire group associated with her is gone.

The Hayden Heath Theatre Department is in full swing with this and that project and everyone is socializing and having the times of their lives and I haven't been to an improv group meeting in three weeks. Straight. Again. I went once in between there, so it doesn't count as seven weeks straight, but the point is that this is just not like me.

I spend a lot of time up in the lighting racks and hangings, just feeling like I'm a little closer to God in some kind of literal sense. Like light equals Light, and if Jim or someone else were to turn them on with me up there, without knowing where I was and without my involvement or prompting, that would be like some kind of spiritual happening that would help to revive the saving of my soul from before I got this body.

Feech, though, would say that my soul is as pure as the next serpent's, and then she would chuckle...

You know, it's not fair, but I'm remembering her from before her SCABS.

Since she had her own self twisted around by this physical revelation she hasn't been able to see and she's been dark and sort of empty, like she never was before.

It drove Gabe nuts, the last months she was here before so many of them trucked off to Pennsylvania and John and Bahni were already off working with that Children's Theatre and Alan got left behind once again.

I don't mind being left behind, really I don't mind it.

Or... At least I didn't mind it.

But Lawrence Kelly offered me a job, too. As Technical Director. He said he was impressed with the man who trained me and that he was leaving the position open for a time if I didn't want it, but that he would take me in an instant.

He's the sort of extremely flattering man that can kind of take us Theatre People aback. He got to Gabe first and practically handed him a part, and now they're all out there with his Repertory group.

I could still go.

The position's still open.

I've even talked about it with Jim, and he's pointed out that there are enough students around here who are in the same situation I was a few years ago, and who would love to stay and work in a place like Hayden Heath for awhile.

I wouldn't have to feel guilty about going. Gabe keeps writing to me and telling me that he's tried everything and would I please get out there and snap his friend out of this funk, so she could start enjoying herself and he could stop worrying. He says that the rest of them are doing great.

Great. Wonderful. I don't know... This is a pretty good job, here...

And there's the main reason I didn't go in the first place, which is Teresa (Feech, to just about everyone) herself.

I mean, why would I go out there for anything else?

I'm already assistant to the Technical Director in a university where my future is assured, where it didn't matter that in my Junior year I went to the hospital with flu symptoms and woke up some weeks later as a twenty-eight-foot long Burmese python. It was then that I started to panic, because I thought for sure that even Hayden Heath wouldn't want me. When it turned out they did, that I was all right with them despite some of the other SCABS' fears of reptiles, then I swung back the other way to a kind of naive hope and wrote my first email on my dicky old PC back to my girlfriend in my home town.

Her reply came back wishing me luck in my new life and saying she'd pray for my soul, and she was sorry to hear that we would never be able to see each other again.

It wouldn't pay to write another letter, I knew.

It wasn't me, it was her, and how could I blame her?

Heck, I think I might have even put a grass snake down the back of her dress one spring when we were in seventh grade.

Yeah, I was immature. Yeah, she screamed. I laughed, along with a number of the other boys. There weren't many girls in our school who could abide snakes.

Well, according to the Bible, none of the human race can, according to God's decree. Which is why Teresa says we should not take that part of the story so literally.

Anyway, she would say, that part was talking about vipers, not constrictors.

So what?

Vipers are people too, aren't they? And constrictors have been known to strike at people's ankles. And there is nothing of the man left in me...

I take that back. The lights, the theatre, the vibrations, the smells, they still do something for me. I like my job, and I like my life. I am Alan as much as I was before, just so... different.

Too different for God to recognize me?

Maybe that's it. Maybe I'm back to worrying about who God is and what He looks like and whether Santa will find our house this year, like I did when I was a little kid. God is all-knowing, maybe, but I'm not. I don't know how to define this thing that has taken over me. I just know Hayden Heath is a safe and good place to be in this form and as this person.

Yet I do not want Feech to come back. It's not fair to expect the designer and painter of before to live in the scents and sounds and voices of a place where she is no longer able to do these things. Besides, I knew she'd make one heck of a good director, and it sounds like Mr. Ross out in Pennsylvania is heading her that way, according to Gabe.

No more painting. It's not fair. At least snakes have something to... To, well, not to hear with, but to experience sounds the way snakes experience them. She's still a human, for all practical purposes. She's had her sight taken away.

Is it fair of me to expect myself to stay in a place where I can no longer see Feech?

That's kind of like being blind where you can't paint, isn't it.

I wanted her to just ask me to come. If she would have just asked me. But she barely even talked to me at all after she got back from Wisconsin. Jax took me aside about it recently, railing at me for not getting the fuck out there to that theatre where Feech is working. It reminded me of Gabe, only angrier.

Of course, part of it was that Jax has never gotten that close to me voluntarily before, except to bite the heck out of my neck one time, and he stood there bristling with his teeth chattering and his tail whipping back and forth on the cement scene shop floor while he tried to articulate with shivering hands.

I wanted to know why he had come to me voluntarily.

He wanted to know why I didn't get the hint that if she wasn't responding to me then she was testing me and I was supposed to go prove myself to her or something.

Where did he get the information that I was emailing her and not getting any replies? From Heather, cute new kid working with Kilroy in the sound booth. Whatever. Everyone seems to think that Teresa wants me and just doesn't want to say anything.

It never stopped her before. And if Gabe can't get her attention, who's to say I could?

On the other hand, maybe she just needs a hug. From me. Maybe.

Yeah, from the resident snake at Hayden Heath University. Yeah, I'm sure they all want me out at this great up-and-coming Theatre in Pennsylvania.

It's so quiet around here...

They don't even pound on the cabinets for me anymore. I think... Well... Yes, that one's my fault. There's not even a reason to talk to me half the time, and I help out where I have to and where I can but I'm probably about as fun to seek interaction with as is someone like Jim (to most people).

I really have withdrawn quite a bit since Feech got SCABS. Even before she graduated. I think Jax and Gabe and I all feel a little guilty.

So why do they try to pin the miracle cure on me?

I mean, if we're all going to sit around blaming ourselves for her, what makes them think that my advances-- other than the unanswered emails that I type out regularly-- are going to make any more difference than theirs? Why in the world would it make any difference to her other than that my hugs happen to be cold and theirs warm?

Heck, Gabe's out there already. If he can't do anything, maybe it's up to someone else entirely, out of our hands.

But I don't want it to be.

If only she'd ask me. She always used to ask, before. She used to act like she wanted to be around me.

Maybe... Pretending to be friends with a snake got to be too much effort after the onset of blindness.

But she always smelled honest.

In my apartment, the upstairs of a house three blocks from the Performing Arts Center, I type every few weeks on my frogging old PC. It used to be every few days, then every week. But now I just send out an email every few weeks, knowing perfectly well that she's getting them and that there is no problem with her Braille pad; Gabriel checked on that when we exchanged messages one night and he realized she was still not contacting me.

I wish I knew what she was thinking and feeling.

If there was anything I could do.

The last thing I want to do is to take that TD position if my presence away from her, at Hayden Heath, is the only thing good about me for Feech.

I type with the tip of my tail, and this leaves me open for some problems until I get yet another part to update the new computer in the corner of my living space, so I have a little bent, adjustable bar for two-key necessaries, such as sending.

When she talked to me, Feech used to tease me a little bit, not enough to hurt, about how all my efforts at emailing looked a little like some old ee cummings poem or something by Bradford Medoc. That last is a pseudonym if I ever heard one. Sometimes I debate taking on a pseudonym for the university playbills, just because I could if I wanted to. I don't know what it would be, though. Python Molorus. You see I'm not very creative. I'm more of a technical, I'll build-your-vision sort of a person.

My long-sided chest expands and resets when I sigh. I usually sigh when I coil on the pad in front of my computer.

Okay, another try...

I wish I knew what to say...

hi feech/teresa,

i dont suppose you miss me or anything

No, no way, too harsh. I wish I knew how to help someone in this way. Jax and Gabe are the artists. Why don't they do something?

Somewhere in my mind, the answer clearly is that they feel that by riding me about it, they are truly doing what they think is best to get Feech to snap out of her darkness.

If anyone could cure her blindness, her father would have found them, and anyway Feech should be able to deal with something like this. I mean, wouldn't it be just like her to say that you never can tell with that Martian Flu and that she might as well put up with it while it lasts, until things turn around or she dies when she's ninety?

Yeah, she'd say that.

What is she afraid of?

Me, I suppose... No. That's putting a whole load of importance on one person in one capacity within the Department where she used to study. If she's really worried about what I think...

But then, the other boys do think she is. They think I can do something, that she's waiting. I just don't know. I've never had anything like this happen to me. I don't really think Jim has, either, and he's the closest thing to an advisor that I've got.

I'm running out of cute things to say about the Freshmen. I'm running out of patience with myself for feeling so rotten whenever another night goes by and I check my mail and there's nothing.

I fantasize at night. I admit it. I imagine that she's in bed with me and sometimes I even think that I can really feel her, when I get into the right frame of mind. Sometimes I wonder if I'm deliberately avoiding getting too involved in the whole question of what she thinks, because to end the question could very well be to end the possibilities of what I fantasize about.

Or am I just kidding myself that it could ever happen?

Yeah, I'm just kidding myself... But if Feech needs me in some way, any way at all, isn't there any way she can tell me? Did I do something wrong back when she was a Norm that made her think she couldn't be with me as the Theatre friends we were? Or is it just that I'm a snake? That's all it took with a lot of people. What if... What if her new form is more afraid of serpents, even though the physical changes are very subtle?

She never acted or smelled afraid. Just masked. Like she was afraid to show something, but not phobic as someone would be of a reptile.

I don't know. Maybe they're right. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe I'm just plain wrong, everything about me, and they're wrong thinking I'm right for her. Or something.

Email...

hi teresa

i miss you. hope it's going well out in pennsylvania.
miss all of you, gabe included. tell him i said hi and will email him soon.
heard from john-bahn. they are both well, enjoying children's theatre.
jim hopes you all are well out there.

My writing doesn't look anything like poetry.

Maybe I should leave off the punctuation or something.

I wonder if she reads it.

i have several

No, don't want to tell her about the colors of paint I have splattered all over me lately. She used to love talking about that. Last thing I want to do is write as if I'm trying to make her jealous.

On the other hand, what am I supposed to tell her? The colors are me. They're part of my life. It just doesn't seem fair, waving it in her face like that. Especially since she said she does see colors, just not real ones... Not the ones in front of her physical eyes.

Well, Alan, are you going to write to her about yourself or not?

The worst that could happen is that she'd not want to communicate, theoretically, and that has already happened.

But what if she is reading this, and she does get upset, and she was about to contact me for the first time since moving out there?

They say she does a great job. I'd love to see her at it. I'd like to get involved. This place seems so different this year, without her.

Sure, Hayden Heath is great. And crowded, spilling over with eager students and layer upon layer of vibrations and scents... I don't feel left out, but I do feel left behind, and kind of swept along with a group that just doesn't touch me the way that group did... Maybe I do belong with them. All of them, not just Feech.

But if I do, and it turns out she doesn't want me there, and I just make things worse... Wouldn't I rather stay where I'm useful?

How useful am I here, anyway?

Someone else could do my job. Not exactly the way I do, but someone could do it...

colors stuck to my skin and scales today.

i need a good soak and a scritch i think; can you send scritches through email
i don't think anyone else around here is quite as good as you are at those... hope you're giving a lot of them to the folks out there

Gabe says she's not, that she's not nearly as physical as she used to be, and that maybe if she had me she would start coming out of it; he thinks she always felt most comfortable with me out of all the Department people.

I don't know... She didn't seem at all comfortable when she came back blind, but then who would be? I wanted to cry for her. I didn't know what to do. We knew the situation, and we knew that things would be changed, but she acted so different that it kind of threw all of us.

i'll tell jim i wrote to you and said hi for him.
please take care of yourself. i'll write to you soon.

love, alan

We always sign our notes "love" around here. Which kind of leaves me stuck for something a little more intimate to sign off with. I long to hold you against me, please tell me what to do, don't you think it would be easier to talk than keep so silent... Nope, none of that really seems to be called for here.

I thought we were going to be really good friends. It just felt like a certain progression. And Jax and Gabe are practically trying to force the idea down my throat, now. Not that friendship and romance don't occur to me every day, not that I don't try to find cabinets that haven't been opened in a while that might still hold particles of her scent from last year.

If they would let me just think!

If they would let me just think, they know perfectly well, I would slide around in my dreamlike state with a past perfect Teresa in my mind and do not one thing about it.

She could have asked me to come with her.

I could have gone with her.

Damn it, how the hell am I supposed to know who's supposed to do what when?

She could have asked me...

She's testing you, Jax spelled, you dumbshit, go to her...

Well, what the heck does he know. If he's so insightful why didn't he end up with her? Choosing between furry, tall, well-dressed and artistic (not to mention insightful) and long, heavy, cold and dull seems really not to leave too much to wonder on.

But she did seem to like me.

I mean, sometimes we just sat around and she scritched me and spelled odds and ends from the day to me and I even noted some of my spiritual concerns and she used to reply to them readily, like she had some sort of store built up in case a serpent ever asked her these things.

Jax said she was a shithead-- although I suppose he said it in a nice way, if such a thing can be done. Around me, his tone and demeanor were and are always influenced a bit by the constant glinting of his eyes and that chattering that moves his lips and cheeks all the time. I know he's agitated around me and I don't blame him. It's just that I hope he meant to say good things about Feech, because I found her store of answers comforting and, even if I didn't always agree with it, at the least entertaining.

And we both smelled like sawdust and paint and the Performing Arts classrooms. It was like sitting with a female, human version of myself, like part of me asked and the other part answered.

I don't know.

I send the email.

I may as well; it gives me something to go to sleep on, to fantasize on. It occurs to me that snakes never close their eyes.

I mean, I never close my eyes.

There is some symbolic irony to this that I never know just how much to dwell on.

Deaf and blind.

Damn... I miss her.


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...

There.

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.

W-H-E-R-E

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.

Yuck.

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.

Great.

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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