|The Last Remaining Wonder in the World
© Feech -- all rights reserved
Always stand with your hands behind your back when you're looking at graphic Art. It makes you look like you can hardly keep your hands off it, and it's flattering. At least, that's my philosophy, and hey, it doesn't hurt to make these natural actions become some kind of law, give them a purpose, make everything you do in the course of this all real. I also believe in smiling with your eyes, first, when you're not sure you want to smile all the way at someone. You want to see first if they need to be smiled at. Then you can turn it on and they'll be pleased.
I imagine gallery patrons surrounding me, although there is no one else in this hall where the students' graphic art is currently on display. I'm practicing my on-the-spot critiquing, in my head. I'm dressed for a party, though. Black suit and blacker shoes, just a handkerchief for color. It helps me get in the mood.
I move from piece to piece, and then try to clear my brain and do it again. Every time, I have someone who inhabits my practice landscape ask me a different question. It's a good way to relax, when I don't really have to do it, and at the same time maybe I can learn something to apply later on.
"You one of the theatre students?" The voice is off to my left, and I turn to give the eye-smile, keeping my hands holding each other behind my back. It's a dancer. You can tell the dancers when they're standing still, by the way they look physically exhausted instead of emotionally spent coming out of rehearsal.
"No." Slowly, I turn to face him completely. I want to say, 'enjoying the exhibit?', but I smile a bit and continue, "Art. The other Art."
"Oh, the graphic stuff. Yeah." The dancer pushes his hair up off his forehead, even though the bangs aren't very long, as if it's a habit he has. He's got more muscles than I, even though we're about the same height, black-tan thick hair and pale-tan skin. "What do you do?"
"I buy art, critique art, recommend art."
"You do that? Are you studying here or are you an alumnus?"
I grin. "I study here. I happened to become involved with a firm that decided to tap into the student talent. There aren't many buyers with impressive reputations who are willing to sink themselves into a firm. So I'm practicing, because I feel like it, here, and I have classes, and I do this for a living."
"No kidding? You don't have your degree and you're working with a buying firm?"
I remove my attention entirely from the displays. "That's right. I got lucky. Now I can build my reputation in the firm and they get an educated buyer, and I can go on from there after I get my degree."
"Lucky? How do you get lucky with a thing like that? There aren't any others who were rioting for something like that?"
I puzzle at him for a moment. His dark brown eyes, of the kind that go with his complexion, appear genuinely curious. "I don't know. I just happened to be the right choice."
He looks back at me, seriously. This is becoming interesting. Most of the art students never care to ask me what I'm doing with most of my time, so it doesn't get around to the inevitable cries of envy and 'I could do that better than you!' and only semi-mocking spite due to one's good fortune. He doesn't look at the art, just at me. Finally he says, "How'd you do it."
Perhaps he feels he could learn something from me. Maybe he could. I broaden my grin. "Look very closely at my face."
The other student leans in, doing just that, peering with concentration on my eyes, chin, all, then backs up and his brow gets a single line in its middle before he ventures, "Are you wearing make-up?"
I laugh, pleased. "Yes. That's it. If you notice, black mascara and just a touch of rouge. Not too much."
"You wear it all the time?"
"Whenever it counts."
"Ah... It makes a difference, does it."
"Of course. Think about it. You're a dancer, I see. You wear it onstage when it's important to see your face, or you'd get washed out by the lights. We all get washed out. It's simply a matter of where, and how much."
"Heh, that's great. I had never actually thought of it that way." The brown man holds the back of his neck with one palm, for a moment, thoughtfully. "So that's how you did it, you think."
"Undoubtedly. That and my handshake. I practice my handshake. If my sample critiques hadn't been any good, well then it wouldn't have mattered anyway. But there are other good students in my major, with some of my same ambitions. So you have to go for pure appeal, whether they realize it or not. You wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't told you to look, but you noticed anyway, on some level."
"Maybe that's why you looked attractive. Maybe that's why I sort of stopped and talked to you, here."
I shrug, just a little. I feel myself getting a bit shy and turning my eyes away a bit, smilingly, without planning it. "Could be, I guess."
"Well, may I try the handshake? What's your name?"
"My name is Francis." I offer my hand, which is small and white, white as the rest of my skin, which is the reason for the rouge. I just don't have much color on my own. At least my black hair and lashes are well-defined. Doesn't hurt to help them, either, though. The other student shakes. He seems to feel whether it comes across to him as professional or not.
"I'm Gordon. And I'm a dancer here, that you know. My last year. Yours?"
"Yes. One to go. I've got something lined up, and I'm glad."
"I can sympathize with that. I'd love to have something lined up. The only thing is, with the professional shows I've danced in, they're not very long-lived, and no companies are hiring. Nice handshake, Francis. And nice mascara."
He leans with an upper arm on the wall between two prints and continues casually: "I've got a house rented over by the old-new development on Joaquin in Hollywood. Move in with me."
I almost consider it for a minute. I'm not seeing anybody, and there's something about him noticing me like this. Still, it's nuts. Nobody does that. "Well, I'm flattered. Very much so." I grin, and I don't think my blush needs any help right now.
He smiles, not showing any teeth, just sort of kept in but enough all the same. "Why does 'flattered' always mean 'no'?"
I shake my head. "It's one of those things, I guess. Anything but 'yes' means 'no'."
"Aw, well, I figured I'd ask. You didn't look like the type I'd scare away, and now next time you see me, you'll remember me."
At that, I just about turn right around and say, I'll get packed. I gaze at him for a second, and he leans there, unmoving. It takes me some time to reply, "Undoubtedly."
"Ah, then I'm pleased. I look forward to seeing you again, Francis. And I must consider your techniques. They may be worth something."
"They have been for me."
"So I see. Not many people would go for such unconventional applications of make-up so easily." He takes a long time over the word 'unconventional'. I get the feeling long words always wander around in his mouth before he can steer them out. I like him.
"I say, what's the point of not making use of all the ways you can be made to look good? They're all there, emphasis for all your most pleasing features, and men don't want to touch them. It's a shame."
"You may be right. It's been nice indeed meeting you."
The dancer, Gordon, holds out his hand again before leaving, and this time I feel him imitate my own hand from before. How he moves is definitely important to him. And I'm not complaining. I watch him walk away. Not that I'd want to have muscles like that, but to look at on someone who wears them well they're a pleasure. Same goes for anything anyone wears well, I guess.
The moon is changed. Nothing changed it. No one touched it, but it changed all the same.
Reality changes in more ways than you would think it does. In the one night when it was out and I couldn't see it, it must have happened then. It was in a time when the rest of the Earth could have been watching, and no one happens to have told me yet just how the transformation took place. All I know is, there was a moon that night, it was hidden from my view, and since that time it has been a different thing altogether.
I go for a few days without seeing Gordon, but he was right about asking me to move in with him-- it hasn't been easy to forget him. I find myself almost regretting that I didn't say 'yes' right away. It would have been interesting to see how he responded to that. Somehow, I get the feeling he wouldn't have batted an eye.
I stand again in the hallways by the dance studio, and he does not appear, but it could be that the class he is taking is on alternate days. It's not like I'm planning around him suddenly standing out here and noticing me, or I him, and exchanging a greeting. Where I was once before I ever knew he existed I can be again without ulterior motive.
On the fourth day, I wander in through the wood-floored lobby with its strips of carpet, strolling towards the student gallery, humming to myself because I just had a talk with my favorite supervisor and client in the firm (the supervisor is a fierce lover of Art, and the client is a tame lover of Art but an unabashed lover of listening to Art critics). I time out my projects that I have to do, and consider my parents coming down for a visit sometime and what we'll do for entertainment; maybe one of the stage shows in Hollywood that I haven't seen yet. As I turn the corner into the plain hallway (plain so it won't clash with nor detract from the exhibits), I hear old rock guitar music on what is probably a small stereo.
I stroll more casually, and more slowly, and wander down the hall, stopping at the pictures, but I can see that down at the end of the hall, someone is stretching on the floor, probably after a movement or dance class. Two more side glances and I can tell it is Gordon, and I just go ahead down there and see what he's up to. He sees me coming, and faces me, but his hand is still extended out to his straightened foot and ankle. Next to him is a black portable stereo.
There's a vigorous, far-reaching woman's voice singing "I-- really like you baby, I-- wanna be you baby--"
"Francis, hi. Imagine meeting you here." He smiles, lips together, innocently.
"What music is that?"
"Melissa Etheridge. I'm reeling you in with it. Even though this meeting is totally unplanned, as you can see."
"...I'll gladly make you my first tattoo..."
It's amusing. I like it. "Okay. What do you want me to do."
"Great! Good. Yes. I want you to go out for a coffee and dessert with me or something and then I have rehearsal, but you're going to give me your phone number so I can call you every other day after this."
"I can't have caffeine, and I don't like coffee without it. But the rest of that sounds good."
"Well then! All right." He stands up, shakes out his arms and loosens the tension in his legs. He turns off the music and hooks an arm through mine, but he's still singing it in my ear. I smile at him. I can tell his forte is dancing, not singing, but he has a lot of enthusiasm. I decide to see what happens if I start a conversation.
"I can't have caffeine because I had a seizure, and the doctor I went to after Student Health said it might happen again-- he's afraid I have SCABS, not a permanent low-degree condition, but one which might change at any time. If I eat anything too strong for the other body I might end up in trouble."
Gordon is walking me towards one of the other doors, probably to cross by the drama women's dorm to a small coffee and ice-cream shop on campus. He replies, almost carelessly, "Understood."
"Yeah, so, if I suddenly go into convulsions and turn into some kind of lagomorph in front of you, don't be alarmed."
He pauses, and I do too, since our arms are linked. He looks deeply thoughtful for a moment. "Okay," he says, blinking once and nodding briefly, "got it. No alarm will be shown."
We walk on for about three or four steps before he adds, "What's a lagomorph?"
I laugh. "Something along the lines of a hare or a rabbit. I'm not sure which. I think I'm a rabbit."
"How do you know? What's the difference?"
"I just like the sound of the word 'rabbit' better. I don't know otherwise. I just would rather be a rabbit, if I have to be one or the other. Maybe I'll change in front of you sometime and you could identify it for me. And the difference that I remember it by is that hares are born with hair. Rabbits aren't."
"That's the only difference?"
"No, I'm sure there are more, that's just how I remember it."
"Okay, well, if you have that happen I'll be sure and grab a bunny book and look it up."
"You do that." I grin. He's making me grin a lot, without my planning it. Usually I grin ahead of time, you know, look pleased to be with somebody, but I've learned that from charming the Art community. I like to be made to just naturally smile once in awhile.
"I've had the Flu. Sometimes I wonder if I have SCABS, only it just doesn't show. Like maybe you do, you know, unless something about you has changed that I don't know about."
"No, this is pretty much it. I look like I did before I ever contracted the Flu." I consider telling him that not even my parents know, because I wanted too much to stay here and didn't want to worry them. I don't think I'll say anything to them, although if it happened a lot, they'd have to know so it wouldn't be even more frightening if I changed into the rabbit when they were around. I just kind of count on it not happening. But I am careful to avoid chocolate or caffeine. The doctor had that worry, and I don't want to be to blame if anything happens to me that I could have prevented, when I'm keeping this from my folks. I almost tell him all of this, and turn that over in my mind; he's very easy to talk to. He doesn't have to know about my seizure, but I told him straight out anyway.
I smile at him, still, and he goes along casually, a dancer walking, you can tell them anywhere on campus from the way they move even everyday and in their street clothes.
"You're a man, aren't you? In what you want to be as well as what you are, I mean?" He turns to me and waits with the line in his brow for my reply. He doesn't ask a question without wanting the answer, it certainly seems.
"You mean about the make-up? That I wear it even though I'm male?"
"Yes," I reply happily. I haven't had personal attention like this since I left my last boyfriend back in high school, and he never asked me anything he cared to know the answer to, anyway. "I'm male. Am it, want to be it. It's like I said that first time we talked, I just like to use what makes me look good. Don't you?"
"Sure, I just never thought of it that way. So, would you wear a dress?"
"If I looked good in it."
I blush. "Mainly I just wear suits."
He considers the one I'm wearing, tilting his head as he walks to look at the cut of the back. "You look good in suits, too."
"Thanks." I feel that unbidden shy-grin again and turn my head, which makes me notice more the feel of his arm through mine than what he looks like, and I decide I like him either way. He's a comfortable presence. I wonder if he gets milk in his coffee, or anything else that would make it seem sort of soft, or whether it'd be black-strong. It's hard to decide either way about him, whether he's soft and strong or just appears to be one or the other. I look forward to the coffee break.
We get to the shop just as a few girls, some of whom I know, are coming out through the door with its tinny bells on it. "Hi, Francis!" Two of them call out. A third stops me, hissing close to my face, "Who's your friend?"
"Gordon," I say. I've stopped, so he's pulled back by my arm, and I hold my hand up to introduce him. "Gordon, Monica. Monica, Gordon."
"Nice to meet you," she says to him. To me, as I watch her leave, she makes her sign for 'burning hot' by shaking her fingers. I blush.
"They in your Art major?" he asks me as he pushes open the two-way swinging door.
"Some of them."
"You like them?"
"They're all right."
"That's good. It's nice to be in a nice-people major."
"I agree. Wait, let me guess. Sugar, no cream?"
He grins. "No. Black, with cream."
I hold my head back, taking in a breath just to think this over. I really like this man. "Okay, I wanted to try it first, anyway."
"I already know you don't take coffee."
"I'd like a shake."
"It's yours, M'Lord."
Oh, one of these. I won't pretend I don't like it, either.
He orders his and I order mine and he pays for both, and we sit down and begin talking. Each time he puts his mug down on the table, he looks at me wordlessly for a moment as if he's sizing me up while there's a pause in the talking, and each time I watch his eyes and inevitably think of his invitation of four days ago. Eventually I admit, "I can't stop thinking about your proposal."
"I knew I was holding onto that one for the person who'd really appreciate it."
"What, you don't say that to all the guys?" I flutter my eyelashes at him. He chuckles.
"Not by a long shot. Plenty would accept and then I'd be in trouble. Now, when you accept, I'll actually have meant what I said."
"When I accept?"
He nods, and takes another sip of coffee. "When you accept."
Dang. He's good at this.
I take off my coat. I wear it here, I think, even though I really don't need one most of the time in California and even if it seems overly formal, an overcoat like this, because then I can take it off and bring to myself the vulnerability I'm trying to cultivate by meeting here at all. I give it to the woman at the desk. She's the friendly face they have here at this center for when you come in the front door, and she checks coats and such. I don't think she'd really need to be here, sitting behind a nice laminate beige reception desk, but I figure they make her stay in the one place so there will be a constant. And I constantly come in my overcoat, and hand it to her, and she smiles quietly and nods me into the room two doors down on the left.
The house on Joaquin in Hollywood is a two-story, hardly any carpeting but decently new tile, with old-style screen doors of white-painted pine and an echoing kitchen and living room. I came over to visit just Gordon once, and once for an evening of television and cards with a few other guys, and enjoyed myself. Gordy had stopped looking at me over his coffee by then; he knew it was a given. I managed to hold out for those two visits, and almost two months of hallway meetings. But I was snared in the end, and I found it rather appropriate, when I thought about it, the man setting traps for me in the one narrow way I walked nearly every day.
The bed is white; it always looks white, even though the linens are pale tan or grey. It's the upstairs light that does it, the way the house is positioned here on the hill. I like to wander around and feel the space, especially when Gordon might come around a corner on some student-at-home errand and bump into me, and give me a kiss for appearing out of nowhere. "That was a nice surprise," he says, balancing his dance-illustration book, reading glasses and spiral-bound pad. "I love you. Don't you have anything to do?"
I beam up at him, dreamily, knowing what I have to do but liking to leave him with the sensation that somehow all I have to do in life is laze around his house and get underfoot.
He chuckles at me. "I wish I was as fast at my written work as you. All this time dancing and I gotta read, too."
I hug him, and glance at the book. "Why, Gordy, Hon, there are hardly any words in this book."
"I know, but it's not like this is the only required text. Well, off to slave in front of the 'feed."
"'Slick Oiled Hot Gay Men Cook Italian.'"
"Hah!" I mock-punch him. "Is not!"
"'Lassie four-hundred and eighty-seven, Lassie Watches a Lassie Movie?"
"That I'll believe."
"Join me down there if you wanna, Handsome. Otherwise I'll talk to you later."
"Okay." I let go of him. His glasses slide off the top of his book, and he catches them in the opposite hand and from there puts them between his teeth. "I love you," he tells me indistinctly around the frames.
He watches me, waiting, never really appearing impatient even though he's standing here waiting to get to his work. I fold my hands behind my back. His knees make him look like he's dancing when he's standing still. He just waits, until finally I say, "Well, you got me." I've said that every day, practically, since we moved me in here.
"I got you." He grins around the glasses. He says he never wears them except when he's sitting down to read because otherwise he's not used to his vision with them on. "I don't think I got too bad a deal."
"You were fooled. It's the mascara."
"Well, in that case, your secret worked even when you revealed it. I gotta go downstairs. Love you, Man."
"I know. Thanks. Gordon, thank you."
"Sure. Thank you, Francis."
He goes downstairs. I wander in to the white bed, and step around it like it couldn't hold me if I lay on it. Then I sit on it and stare at the wall. I want to soak up this place, maybe because it's so different from the formality of a lot of California in the way I see it and critique it. My folks laughed a lot more when they visited here, compared to when we spent time mostly in my apartment, nice as it was. I found myself almost saying things to them when Gordy was around, as if nothing could worry anyone when he was standing there with a beer or a coffee. He has that kind of presence. Still, it's best not to worry loved ones who live far away, in this case my native Canada. I still haven't had another seizure, and the firm would love to have me for as long as I'll stay. I promised them some time after I get my degree, as well.
Art. It's good for you. I recommend it. That's why I like people to tell me to buy them some. I know I can please them. They know I can please them, somehow, too, because they let me do it before they even know me, some of them. Maybe that's why I'm so easily taken with Gordon. He could do with me what I do with clients; tell them what would brighten or dignify their homes, and they listen to me. I listened to him, and I think I'm as glad as some of those folks have been with the results.
The usual people are here. I immediately glance at the chairs my most anticipated acquaintances occupy each time, and pause in the doorway. With them is a familiar face, but he's never attended a meeting before. I've seen him once, and I remember his name because I tend to remember names. But he wasn't in this country when I met him, although of course I knew he was American.
Larry looks at me. He stands, and brightens, and then comes the expression that inevitably follows, for even as he waits to take my hands and smile and ask how I'm doing, he must know there is only one reason I would be here, and I know it of him, too. And then it makes sense-- I just never made the names have anything to do with each other in my head before-- because of course Juliet would be his niece. This is her uncle, and it never even registered when I met him. Bethuel smiles, sitting in his usual place on Juliet's right side, and nods to me. "I didn't know you knew Lawrence," he says quietly from where he's sitting.
"We met in Egypt." I cross to Larry now and we do grip each other's hands, and I feel suddenly shy. You don't expect to meet people here that come from other parts of your life. "I just never even thought he was the same Kelly."
"This is my uncle," Juliet tells me shyly, seeing my shyness and tilting her head the way I do when someone gets me off guard.
"I-- I know, yes, well, good to see you again..." I sit down next to Larry and he keeps smiling, but still I do feel awkward saying that. Good to see you. Yes, it is, but it's not like I mean it's good to see that he's a part of all this. I know what happened with him. I know Juliet's story.
"It is good to see you, Mr. Marchiose, Francis," he offers, telling me I'm okay, it's okay that I've seen him in some other setting than an art exhibition.
"Thank you." I feel deeply grateful, I don't know why.
Larry pats my hand, something he never would have done in any other setting, but here he knows I wouldn't be sitting in these chairs without a reason for needing to be sympathetically touched. I look at him. He doesn't seem to mind if I scrutinize him, so I do. I remember that he was pleasant in Egypt, and interesting. The state of Art since the rise of SCABS has interested him, become a sort of crusade of his. I, of course, was there Buying Art. We talked a lot, but he never mentioned his family, and neither did I. It's easier when you know it's all mundane. There are some things you just don't subject business acquaintances to. That's why my parents made me come here, to ensure that I would talk, to make me emotionally safe so I could stay in Hollywood. They wouldn't have let me otherwise.
Gordy leans in at the screen door by the kitchen. "Come out and see the moon, Francis."
He sounds so serious, I go out solemnly and look with him. He stands with a bluntly awed expression on the hill in back of our house, gaping at the full moon. "People have been there. But then I wonder how many moons like this they've missed, looking at it from the other side."
"Yes." I take hold of his hand. It's sweaty, and he pulls away and wipes it on his tank shirt, then gives it back to me. I pull his arm around my waist and touch my opposite fingers to his hand.
"Nothing going on, I guess, I just wanted you to see it."
"No. Just-- some moon."
"It is." It is, indeed, some moon, and Gordy watches me looking at it and seems pleased. I stand taking it in for some time, then reach up and push a few hairs back behind his ear, where he's sweating and the hair is dampening into little tendrils; the air out here isn't very warm, and in fact Gordy feels fairly cool to the touch, but sometimes I swear all his energy just has to go somewhere and it is as if he is perpetually dancing. I've witnessed him onstage and he radiates something like a smile even when he's only expressing with his arms or his feet. He pats my hand with the arm I haven't taken around my waist, and finally says, "Well, let's go in."
"Yes. Well, I hope I saw what you wanted me to see."
"It was just... Really pretty. I don't know about Art, like you do, you know. But I didn't see how you could critique the moon and find that it's in bad taste or something. So I thought I'd show you this."
"Gordy, you know you can show me anything that you like. I like what you like to see."
"Yeah, but I'm no expert. But I thought this was a very nice moon."
"Thank you. Okay, we can go inside."
"Let's." He leans in and kisses me, and the air changes when I feel it after his mouth has made mine a little moist. It makes everything seem cooler, instead of the rest of us warmer. We go inside, where it is plain and comfortable; we actually have room-temperature rooms.
"I love you." He puts his arms around me from behind as soon as I turn my back to him.
"I love you, too."
"I'm glad you're not a dance critic."
I stay with my back against his torso, and angle my head to look at him. "Oh?"
He nods. "Yeah. That way you don't have to let professionalism get in the way of letting me just dance for you, on stage, you know, or the other way around-- I won't make you be unprofessional just because you like me and wouldn't want to say anything bad about me."
"If there was something I felt critical of, I'd probably say it anyway, Gordy." I grin and reach back to touch his chin. He kisses my finger.
"Well, you know, you're probably right. Okay, you can be a dance critic if you want to."
"Oh dear. Well, if I have my way, you'll shoot straight to the top. Maybe I'm not so professional nor critical as I thought. I'd better keep my deal with the employers I've got and let someone else nit-pick your every move."
"I've got some moves you might like to nit-pick."
"Nit-pick? Or enjoy? Anyway, I'm getting tired of the words 'nit-pick.'"
"Okay. Just enjoy." He pulls me around to face him and kisses me. "When you going to turn into that rabbit?"
"Does it worry you?"
"Not... really... but I hope that if it happens, that's all that happens. I don't want SCABS to be any worse to you than it has to. One seizure, maybe one more to make me worry about you and appreciate you, you know, nothing too overboard. You're such a good guy."
"Thank you, Gordon."
"Francis, did I tell you about being in love with you? It's kind of something I've been pondering a lot lately."
I laugh a little. "I think maybe you mentioned something along those lines."
He growls at me, gives me a long kiss and then stops to look at me for a moment. "Yeah, I guess we've been over that."
"Doesn't hurt to reiterate."
"I love you."
He takes my arm up as if we are in the middle of a spin in a dance, and steps back one step. "Bewitched," he sings, and singing is not his strong point, "bothered and bewildered..."
"I can't dance, Gordy. You know that."
"You could always learn."
I shake my head.
"You--" he pulls me into the next position, although by the time I reach it I'm not quite sure how I got there-- "could always learn..." he puts the words into some approximation of the tune he was already singing.
"Maybe," I say, but then I start giggling and can't stop, and as usual he dances me around the kitchen and I finally stand still with my hands behind my back and fix him with stern glances, and his expression is fiercely glad because there is not one thing he suggests that I really can resist. I may not be a good dancer, but he could make me want to be one, if he desired to.
There's a dance at a party for some producer of the movie Juliet Kelly is acting in, and Bethuel, Larry and Juliet get me invited along with them. It's very forties, with some modern music and white lights as well, and in a large space; I'm not quite sure where to stand to take it in without feeling directionless. I'm used to webs of pathways across what appear to be blank floors, for every person at an art exhibit has designs on each of the pieces and a dance, or other non-gallery reception, has a completely different pattern of interactions.
Larry comes finally and stands near me, sliding out of the drift of conversation and introductions he seemed to be in; I have shaken several hands, professionally, but somehow no current caught me up. I'm relieved to have him close to me.
"It seems I have as little in common with these people as I do with most of the guests at most of the parties in Hollywood," he says, to see if I will agree with him.
"It's not the same," I answer, and he knows I'm talking about purposeful gatherings as for the sharing of Art.
Suddenly I feel terribly afraid. The music is sweet, old stuff, and there's nowhere for me to go. It's here or leave the room, and I nearly leave the room. I feel my palms begin sweating.
I glance nervously around, but there just isn't any change. Larry knows who I am, knows all about me. I thought it was nice to know someone with whom I had more than one thing in common, the art and then the meetings. I thought it was nice, but I have come upon the frightening thing: how do I behave when he knows what I've felt and might not approve of anything other than abject sorrow? I find, here, too suddenly, that coming out of it even the slightest bit can be as muddling and terrifying as falling into it in the first place.
"I need to--"
"Come with me." He takes hold of my arm and guides me to an arch off to the side of the main floor. "May I get you anything?"
"No. Nothing." I look at him, and I feel my fingers tighten up into a fist, as if I'm defying something. His blue eyes are concerned, and his moustache black, which it always is, but he uses the color like an expression.
"Francis, I want to talk to you."
"And I to you." I am pleased with the steadiness of my voice.
"I wondered... You know about my theatre in Pennsylvania. I wondered... if you would want to come out there with me next time I go. Have a visit, meet some friends... I travel back here often enough, returning could easily be arranged..."
"I'd like that," I reply without hesitation.
I get home before Gordy does, since I left after congratulating and praising him on his show, and he has to stay after to organize his costumes, clean off his stage make-up and speak to a few people.
I get out of my theatre clothes and comb my hair, shave and put on the nightgown he bought for me. He was right about it: I do look good in it. It's white and, because I'm not too tall, comes down to above my ankles. I glance once in the mirror, critically, considering, but really it doesn't look out of place on me. I like the short sleeves.
I go barefoot down to the kitchen and turn on some music, my own, Alanis Morisette; Gordy has about two hundred different artists represented in this house and only three of them had I ever heard of before. But we get along all right about what to listen to and when.
"Francis! Take 'er in your arms, and tell 'er-- you there?" Gordon, as usual after a show, is opening and slamming the door, getting out of his shoes, hollering a greeting to me, and singing some number from the show he was just in all at the same time. This time it was a representation of Irish music from ancient history to the year two thousand, and I began calling Gordon "Danny Boy" because he ripped up the stage and has been bombarding me with bad Irish accents and any rolicking song that happens to be the last one he danced to. Now, with the show up, he pulls one from anywhere in the work and flies in the door singing, and takes me, as he does now, out to the barest spot on the floor and makes me dance a step with him before he quiets down.
"You look good, Handsome man, you," he tells me, holding me still by my hands and appraising the nightgown. "I told you so."
"I didn't argue."
"I love you. What did you think of the show?"
"You know. I told you. I thought you were energetic, and charming, and I liked the choreography, and I thought it looked like you took direction well."
"The choreographer's a genius. Well, I'm beat. Tired. Wiped out. Want to have sex?"
I laugh. "That doesn't sound too promising."
"It'll be the time of your life."
I sigh, not out of frustration, but just to take a long breath.
"Come here, Francis."
I line up next to him, arms against arms and faces together.
His breath goes into my mouth when he's talking, since our heights are nearly alike. "Thank you for coming to the show. I was proud to have you there tonight."
"I was proud to meet you after, and be seen with you."
"You really were."
He closes up his arms around me and turns his cheek to my lips, looking a bit dazed as usual after such a show. "I'm going to get myself showered, meet me in bed."
"Lovely. See you there."
Larry is older; it's like the world went twenty years ahead while I, Francis, spent that much time in one single night. I aged a hundred years, and I missed all the physical time the rest of the world engaged in, and they still haven't caught up to me. I glance around the room from behind the pillar of the arch and know that many here must have lost someone, at one time or another, but I still feel as if I never shared that night with anybody else. I feel like an impossibility, as if I can never fit in physically with anyone again, as if my age has been folded back on itself and I am ancient in a very young body, and to interact with me would open up paradoxes no one could unravel or control.
It's the funny things you can never get over; 'Slick Oiled Hot Gay Men Cook Italian' and "I Really Like You" by Melissa Etheridge and dancing the entire routine to "One" from A Chorus Line by himself in the living room, with all the lyrics changed to fit your gender and his mood and the fact that he's actually forgotten some of the original lines. If you become immune to those, if they can't make you curl up and cry, then you can't make any more such experiences with anybody else. You can be braced, ready, prepared against the dark and the bad and the senselessness and all the reminders, except the funny ones. Those get you every time, and there's no escape you can take except from the possibility of any more, and if you don't want to smile at anything then what are you living for anyway.
Larry touches me, and I feel his hand, and move my wrist so his skin will touch my skin. He meant to touch only my cuff, to express some concern, to show he knows what I'm thinking of. But I don't want him to be polite. I want to prove that I'm not some impossibility in the ages we are and the fact that I'm touching anyone at all.
You don't expect to do this more than once, in your life. At least, I didn't. Hope is welling up now, and I almost want it to go away. It feels like the most terrific, terrible emotion that could possibly force its way up within me.
Larry says, "I'm sorry."
I cannot thank him, or I risk tears and ruining my mascara. Don't ever let anyone try to sell you tearproof kinds. They don't work. I just look up at him tightly and say nothing. It's the same damn things you just can't get over.
My side of the bed is furthest from the window, where moonlight makes the grey and brown room appear white and opal. I can't sleep, but I can't tell whether that's because I'm nervous about Gordy and his show that goes on again tomorrow, as I'm always more concerned about these things than he is, or whether I'm energetic from being with him and wish he hadn't gone to sleep so soon, or whether there's some bad mood that I'm not really defining and I don't want to stay in bed.
I hold my head up and turn it back to look over my shoulder, and see him on his side facing the window, breathing softly. I yawn, but don't feel myself fall asleep until I awake, and think I must have been dreaming. Something changed, but I'm not sure what it is.
The room is white, but night-white, like the moon makes it because of its angle on the hill and the blankets that look pale in the dark. Gordy's half of the covers have fallen down upon the sheets. He isn't in them, then.
Barely have I registered this when something stirs. It smells strong, rancid and black. Then it blasts out white, blue and searing sunlike, and I know what it is. I look under the blanket, jerking it back to my side, but nothing is there. Just the hole it's making as it flies up from above the mattress and spikes towards the ceiling.
The blanket edges where it's eaten away are creeping towards my hands. I fall back, and I know I'm not moving entirely on my own. I want to be reaching forward, grasping the other edge of the bed and looking down to see if he has fallen out the other side. But he's not here, and I can't look for him as the air blasts me back and I begin to stiffen violently in the arms, legs and jaws-- I know what it is, I've felt it before, and somehow it had to happen now; I can't say a word. I don't feel any burning. But it rips out the inside of my nostrils even as they're changing and I'm gasping to draw breath through my mouth.
It begins eating my side of the bed. It's tossed me out onto the floor, and I hit without any support, because my arms and legs are straight and tight out to my sides. They kick, violently, and I hear the fire screaming up the sides of the walls and curtains, chattering along the fringes of the bedcovers. I need to get out, I know, but I cannot move except in intermittent jerks of each body part, until I black out and don't recall the rest of the seizure.
On the floor, upright, bunched together with my elbows touching my toes, still the air is circling in my nose and lungs and sewing my eyelids together with needles upon needles and tearing them open again with light. Then it is black. There is no sound but a crackling roar, and no light-- no light whatsoever. Then I kick out, fold my ears back aching tight and run.
I skid about in a full circle and claw at the slippery floor, that has pieces of a billowing dark ceiling crumbling down upon it and my fur that stands out straight from my skin. The ceiling moves lower as it fills up the room, gouging out the walls and the normal ceiling and making itself out of them, and I choke on the breath that won't come in when I need it but forces itself up my nostrils and into my eyes when I try to close it off.
I dash under the cracking bed, to Gordy's side, but he is not on the floor. For a moment I think I know what must have happened, but then a piece of that hot-black blanketing air slices down into my fur and singes the skin, and I shiver violently and tear for the door.
In the hall I panic, digging my claws into flooring that won't accept them and coughing on the air I draw in in greater breaths the more tight and surrounded I get. The blackness is louder than the smoke alarm. I'm staring at the walls, seeming to press out from the fire within the bedroom, the opposite hall paper trickling down in ash from flames escaping by the door I just shot through myself. My eyes are on the sides of my head. It comes to me then that I have to not see anything but what is in front of me, or I will stay here and suffocate.
I focus on the drop-off that is the top of the stairs and launch myself towards it. I make the first step all right, then my long back legs toss me over my own head and my forehead collides with the banister. I slide down on the edges of steps, my ribs pressing my skin between them and the stair edges, and then I kick out with my right back foot and throw myself off the steps for another hard landing on the first floor. I can feel the fire following me. It's arcing up around the whole of the staircase like a ring in the circus for a tiger, only it's still coming on. Something from above falls in front of my nose, burning, a chunk of pock-marked ceiling tile, and I jump to one side, squeal harshly around the smoke in my throat, and run for the kitchen.
There's a sluice, screened in, in the back corner of the kitchen behind the oven. I kick my way in through the gap between oven and counter, thinning myself out and reaching with my hot forelimbs, crash up against the screening and begin clawing and ripping at it with my teeth. Somewhere in the back of my mind I'm relieved that I knew that it was here, but part of me is suffocating and purely certain of no escape. I know I can never get the double kitchen screen door open in time to get away.
Something gives, and I feel for a second it must be the fire destroying the attachments to the woodwork and it will char me before I work the bit of screen away. The stone the sluice is made of still feels cool to my paws, and I rip at the wood, knowing it isn't fire, sure it is fire, until I gasp and yank back and the screen bends up invitingly.
I cut out chunks of my skin and fur on the points of the detached screen, but I scrabble out and jerk back on my haunches in repeated drawing of clean-air breaths. I turn back to the house. It is still roaring and parts of the boards are shrieking and warning of intent to give way.
Fresh air is further from the house. I scuttle away, sideways, more slowly than I should, knowing the house is where everything is. I finally see a window burst out in the second level, and turn with tail in the air and flee to the top of the hill.
There, I cannot watch anymore. I shiver and my head and torso bob with each inhalation, and my eyes tear around the ash and needles in them.
The house burns well into the night. I turn back again, on the hill. My skin is scored by wire along the ribs, and I can't breathe any better than I could in my rabbit body. The night sky is completely obscured by charcoal-billowing waves. I can hear shouting.
It's cold, which it shouldn't be, I think. I can't really register what happened. Everything is memorable, but nothing makes sense.
"Sir! There's one up here."
"Two! There are two! There should be two! I'm their neighbor. We were coming home down the road an--"
Plastic-clad men with smokey faces tramp hurriedly up the hill and bend down to me with shining eyes from the same smoke that burned mine. "He's in shock."
"Breathe, son, calm down, you'll be fine."
I try to make my breaths slower and deeper and find that my lungs are not as crowded and dry as I thought. I blink repeatedly, staring down at the house, which is still licked at by edges of flame that the rest of the men are fighting. I didn't even hear the sirens get here.
I sit straight up. Someone puts a blanket around my shoulders and a stocking cap on my head. An ambulance rolls cautiously up the grass-covered slope to bring the medical people closer to me. I just watch the hoses and the chemicals. They take out more and more of the fire. And I just sit here. I can't make myself say anything. There is nothing to do but let them take him away. I see that the house is gone. There is a pile of wet ash like fresh grave-covering over a home-sized plot. I rub a hand across my cheek and allow the emergency techs to put me on a stretcher and I try to answer all their questions.
"There's one missing, this is Francis, there's one more," I hear our neighbor saying. I try to look at him, but he's behind one of the coated and thin-gloved emergency people.
"He must have been in the house," someone else says in a torn voice.
I shake my head, but there is no more answer to give and I can't see who is saying this.
"We couldn't get into the house beyond two rooms on the first floor," a fighter says defeatedly, trying to sound sympathetic. Still the team that has me is asking me questions and I'm swallowing my bitter-tasting saliva and answering them as best I can. I am lifted into the ambulance.
On the black pile of house, smoke spins up from dying places of fire. The hoses are continuing to drench the area. One line of flame fringes up, but the water is aimed along its fleeing length and it sputters down. The doors are closed behind me and I lay my head down.
"You'll be just fine, son," murmurs a doctor, the same way the fireman spoke to me.
"Is the fire out?"
He places a hand on my forehead, comfortingly. "Yes."
The moon comes out the next night and I see that it has changed. It is no longer a body in the sky. It is a hole. Gordy's going changed it; I can't think of anything else that would have done it. I feel sorry for the people that never even knew what made it sink away. And now there will never be a moon again, and the hole can be seen all over the world.
Gordy's sister, Mary, calls to tell me on the day they finally decide that the evidence warrants considering Gordon's passing to be due to complications from the Martian Flu. Not that it matters. It had been put down as 'fire.' Either way. Mary calls me on the videophone that my parents ordered for me as soon as they heard. They want to be able to see me when they talk to me, even from Canada, especially from Canada, to know that I am really all right. At least, as right as can be expected.
For days I wore grey sweatshirts and white tennis shoes. I folded my arms and stood on sidewalks by myself a lot. Mary sees me, not dressed the way I used to be, but what is she supposed to say. My clothes were lost. So was everything else. My parents couldn't stay forever and I didn't feel up to going shopping with them. They decided to give me time. My eyes are empty when I happen to look in a mirror.
"Francis, it's me."
"Mary," I say, surveying her face.
"I--" she has to make her voice stop wobbling, and she starts again. "Dear, come out and see me next week? Can you come on the bus? I-- I found a picture."
I draw in a sharp breath. "It's true," she assures me quickly, seeing that I would hate to spark my eyes for anything that isn't real. "It's an old one, from before he met you. Not his best. But a real one."
I nod. "When... do you want me to come out?"
"Anytime next week. I'll mail it to you by computer, too, but I wanted to tell you. I also-- he lent me one of his Carpenters greatest hits CDs. You could take the bus out and have my room for the night and ride back next day. I want to see you. I'm so sorry I haven't talked more."
"That's okay." I don't know what else to say.
"Please come see me. I can pay for the bus ticket."
"No! No. I'll make it out. I promise. I..." I just don't know what to say. My fingers are trembling and I fear losing my flat expression. If I lose it, the only alternative will come and I can't begin it in a phone call and then turn it off to go do other things.
"I will be looking for you, Francis. I want you to come here. Please come."
"Shhh... I'll be there. Don't worry."
"Okay." Mary dabs at the underside of one eye and I have to turn away.
"I'll see you next week, then," she says softly.
I nod. "Yes."
"Good, and take care of yourself, please. Please take care of yourself."
I turn off the videophone. I go splash some cold water on my face and make some rearrangements in my schedule for the firm and school, based on a loss in the family. Then I go and sit like stone, sideways with my knees up to my chin, not seeing the wall in front of me. I don't feel like I have any space in this apartment. But that doesn't make any difference if I don't ever move.
At Mary's house the furniture is wide and comfortable, and suited to the round figure she has, although she never is what I would call anything but right. Her thick hair has the same highlights that Gordon's has. Had.
I didn't bring much with me, there was nothing I could bring that could do her any good except some flowers, and we've each had plenty of those. I set down my overnight case and she hugs me close to her before she ever bothers to latch the front door and bring me all the way inside. "Francis. Was your trip all right?"
"Yes." I try not to hug her too tightly.
"Anything to drink?"
"Please. Strawberry milk?"
"Yes, you're in luck." She smiles, that smile that can't help coming in over the ongoing expression, because humans are made to smile. I shine my eyes the slightest bit at her.
"Let me get you set down here on the sofa and put your things in my bedroom. I'd better take the couch. The bed is nicer."
"I can't take your bed."
"But Francis, please do. I don't want you sleeping in a living room. It seems all wrong. I've slept on my couch plenty and I don't mind."
"All right. Mary, are you all right?"
"Yes." She smiles, this time a meant-to-be-encouraging smile, and hands me my milk with the strawberry powder stirring itself around inside the glass. I sit on the sofa and hold the drink. She goes to a miniature filing box on a wicker dresser. "I found... this..."
All the pictures of Gordy that weren't on the web somewhere were lost. All of his music, too, everything he had owned. Even the stuff he would never have wanted me to have to remember him by was lost-- the old elementary-school vid-discs of his initial attempts at tap-dancing, or his childhood essay on ice cream or the tabloid magazine he laughed at and bought one day because it had something in it about Venusian Hamsters Taking Over the World. I don't have any of those things, and he wouldn't have wanted me to have them anyway, but I watched the investigators go through the rubble where no remains of Gordy were ever found, the seared left-behinds of an unnaturally hot, unaccelerated fire, and shook my head bitterly because those things, not even those undesired or embarrassing things, could be retrieved. And that meant that the copies of music for his shows, like the Irish show, were so far beyond my reach that I could not hope to ever even desire their appearance out of the ash. And his picture of him in the maple frame with his glasses on, and the one of him in the company for Tapfight with all the men in tight-fitting black shirts and devilish enthusiastic eyes.
"I discovered this..." His sister comes back over to me, holding out a glossy print a few inches wide, offering it to me as if I may not be coming in peace, trying to make it right for me to be here.
I take hold of the photo by the edges. This is the time for this, then. We expected to cry, together. I motion for her to sit down next to me and I bar my face in between crossed arms. I hold the picture out of range of the salt water. Mary only sits still for a moment before she is sobbing beside me. I can't do this silently, forever. Eventually my voice can't hold itself in. Then Mary gives up too and takes my hand with the photo to make me place it on the small coffee table, and she leans and rocks against me and holds me and I don't really protest to anything.
Mary tries to speak several times, but nothing is coherent for a long time. Then, we both need handkerchiefs. I am usually a gentleman and have two on me at all times, but of course this time I would have forgotten and did forget and she has to go into her purse and bring some tissues out for each of us. "Dear, Francis, Hon, I'm so--"
"No," I shake my head almost angrily. "Shh. Just give me the tissue."
She does so. She shudders and sighs some more, and still clear tears are running down her reddened tan cheeks.
I take a handful of tissues in my left hand and wipe at my eyes with my right, forgetting. I can't focus on the photo. I was afraid of this. That I'll never really get a look at it because I'll never get past the fact that it's of him.
"It's not his best," she says, apologizing. "I don't know why he let me have it. But there it is. I didn't know where I'd even put it."
Gordy is blurred, not just because of my state, but because whoever took the photo couldn't get him to hold still for it-- it looks like he was yelling something and smiling, and it was windy-- the sun was out but there was something tossing his hair in two or three directions. And that's all there is. But it's something to hold onto.
"The Carpenters CD," I say, gasping around all the strangeness of breath in my throat. I'm not perfect in the lungs, since that night, and it may take awhile for the effect to subside.
"He lent it to me..." She begins weeping again. Immediately, she goes to a CD case and pulls the one she wants out without really seeing it, brushing at her eyes with the opposite hand.
I sigh, brace myself, and dry the sides of my cheeks. "Let's put it in."
"Okay." She does. The preparations for playing one CD seem to take a night and day unto themselves. Then it hums into action and begins playing. I remember that most of the artists Gordy most admired are dead, and begin weeping again before any song gets to me by itself. Then there's "Yesterday Once More", and neither of us is any more done crying than we were when we hugged at the door. We cease being any bit embarrassed around each other and just feed ourselves and each other from a bowl of chips from her kitchen, and use up packages of tissues.
Mary hugs me and pats the backs of my shoulders, backing off and smoothing my hair like my mother did when my parents came down to see me and I broke down then, too. It takes us an hour to calm down. By then we're not in the mood for supper. We decide to have fruit from the kitchen and watch old movies until she needs to get some sleep for her work in the morning. I'll take the bus home tomorrow.
"Melissa Etheridge," I say, "'Your Little Secret'. That one piece, 'I Really Like You'."
She laughs. "I know the one you mean. Francis, is it all right if I laugh? You have to understand he just amused me so much sometimes."
"Please do. Please laugh. Yes, please do." I pause and take a sip of the strawberry milk I now have, my third. "Carly Simon. 'My Romance'."
"'My Funny Valentine'."
"You know it!"
She nods. "Yes. That was one he played for me over the phone when he couldn't find the 'right' card, he said."
There's a pause where neither of us says anything.
"It's just..." I try to think how to word this without making it seem like I'm trying to make her cry again. "I wish for that one. That CD. I could have cried to it so many times, and I never did. And now I have to use it and I don't have it."
She nods. There's another pause. The pause becomes yet another pause, and slowly I feel the air changing, past one point and into another as we sit still, and none of this is familiar to me. I've never had to have a conversation like this in my life.
Just as she says it, I open up and say the same thing.
"He loved you."
We look at each other carefully for a moment, then hug fearfully tight, "I love you, Brother." "I love you, Sister." We'll talk like this again, or we won't. It doesn't matter. "I love you. I love you." We need to hear it. We need to hear ourselves say it. Then, we watch some more movies. I sleep in the bedroom that night, and I don't like it. It seems enough like it could be a room of Gordy's that I can hardly sleep in it. But I know Mary feels better if I take what she feels is the most comfortable place.
In the morning, when the light has all shifted again and the outdoors seems blank and washed-out, Mary puts on her work clothes and work cosmetics and hugs me for good-bye. "You take care, Francis. Promise me you'll take care."
"I promise." There's not much else I can say.
"Call me if you need anything."
"I will." I kiss her on the forehead, and she kisses me on the cheek, tearfully, fretting over her appearance but knowing it's no use to imagine she'll go the day with dry eyes. I may; I don't know. She keeps the picture of Gordon with her. I keep the Carpenters CD.
Larry and I stand in his theatre in Pennsylvania. He is holding my hand. He mulls over a question I have asked him, about the place, about naming its repertory company the Firehouse Group. I know about the fire that Juliet set, completely unknowing, how it took away the order of her memories; I know of the loss of his brother Thim and the wife, Rosemary. My counselor matched me up with a support network of people with similar losses to mine, so we would know we wouldn't have to explain too much to each other before just saying what we had to say.
"I guess..." Larry bites his lip and stares hard at the opposite end of the space where we stand, in an aisle between rows of director's chairs set up for the absent audience. "Maybe it's kind of like a memorial. Their names are on the Theatre proper, but if their deaths are also intertwined with the actors there, what with two Dalmatians being involved, and the Group name referring to an establishment that would try to save them, then... It makes them more immediate, in all parts of life. And someday I'll be gone. No one is going to be around forever. It could do more harm to let it go, to not remind Juliet anymore. So somehow I feel at home here." He looks at me, and his eyes are very blue. I'm still not used to them after having only brown eyes so close in my frame of vision. "And I hope you do, too."
Firehouse. Yes. But I can't exactly call firefighters my heroes. I can't call fire a demonic thing, either. I can't hate what Gordon became. He was my lover. Fire is him. But I can understand why it has to have the place it has. I tighten my hold on his hand. "I do. You're right, Fire means too many things to belong to one person's... sorrow. Meaning."
Larry turns away again, but he seems completely with me. "Ever notice... Seems the world always goes on. After my brother and sister-in-law died, and Juliet... changed forever, everything around us is supposed to go on. That's what they say. And that's how it seems. But in practice, there's always one thing that is never the same."
He looks to see if he's making any sense. I nod, feeling a tightening in my chest, and blinking back something I hadn't been ready for. Larry goes on: "For the whole of creation. Somehow, just never the same. It seems like now when I look at some things and I hear another person talking about something as if nothing is different, I feel like they are lying. Pretending for my sake that my perception never shifted theirs in one thought, one-- fear.
"Did you know the pyramids used to go up, and now they go down? The flow of their stones, the way they reach and weather, it used to all be towards the sky. After Thim and his wife died and my niece came to live with me, the pyramids changed. And everyone has been very polite about it ever since, but it's there all the same."
I feel my place that begins these things opening up, and I thought I was going to be clear and unaffected today, but though I manage to speak I know I may feel it all come back again before the end of the night. "I'm afraid I have had the same experience with the moon. It's not my fault as such, I know, but ever since Gordy disappeared the moon has not been what it used to be."
Lawrence puts an arm around my shoulders, standing taller than I, his brow furrowed. "Well, for whatever it's worth, I'm sorry about the pyramids."
"And I about the moon. I forgive you for the pyramids. Do you think perception can change something's reality for everyone else, forever?"
"I don't know... Yes."
I wonder, if it can, and if it has, whether all my being the rabbit has to do with is my own perceptions. And if I imagined Gordy going up like that, whether he was changed or whether he was immune to my perceptions. I wonder if Gordy realizes that he's gone.
I slowly focus on the figure sitting a few feet away from the bed, his shirt glowing in its light color with the dark of a brown or... some other color of Cardigan around it. I shake my head a little and get the black with orange trim Cardigan clear, then Larry's beard, and his face with one finger lining the side of his cheek as he looks back at me. "Swamp rabbit," he says.
I respond, mentally, but no sound comes out. I lay back and try again, this time to the ceiling. I feel like I should have a headache but am too tired to have one. Changing really wreaks havoc on my body. I don't think I could take very frequent occurrences. "What do you mean?"
"Swamp rabbit. I told you I would get a book, and I did. It took me three books to find which one you look like. Here, there are two pictures. I'm betting on the swamp rabbit, instead of the marsh rabbit. You be the judge." He reaches to take a book from the bedside table, and hands it, opened, to me. "Right there." He points to a picture.
I look, blearily, then with clearing vision. It's always my eyes that take the most adjusting. I don't know why. Maybe they change more slowly or something. The rest of it sure seems sudden, so I don't know. "That one," I say finally. "Yes, the... swamp rabbit. Well, for what that's worth, now we know."
He nods. "You all right?"
I rub at my temple. "Yes. Don't worry about me. I remember you said you'd get the book. I was just so tired, and then it takes a minute for everything to come back. But it's all here."
"So you know what's been going on, then."
"I tried to come up here and tell you when you were still the rabbit, but you had gone fast asleep. It was quite cute, actually. Your eyes all shut tight and your little nose moving from your breathing."
I grin, slightly embarrassed. "Yeah... well..."
"You missed the first half of the speeches and all the other pre-exhibit jazz, by now. You still interested in going out?"
"Are you going?"
"Then I'm coming too." I make a few false starts at uprighting myself and heading for my clothing, but eventually I'm up. I fumble with my trousers right away and Larry chuckles, not unsympathetically.
"You all right there? Can you get dressed yourself?"
"Yes I can get dressed myself."
I button my shirt swiftly, although my fingers are a bit clumsy yet, and slide my jacket on and find my yellow handkerchief to arrange at the pocket.
Larry watches me, hands folded over one knee. I smile at him a little while I walk back and forth on the flat carpeting. It seems I always have something across the room that I desperately need during each stage of dressing.
"Mm-hm." I'm lifting my chin, tying my cherry-red ascot. I have to cross the room to find my mascara.
"The first time I asked you."
I lean in towards the mirror, carefully considering how much my complexion will be affected by having just had a seizure. "Asked me what?"
He stands up, stepping closer. "To come East with me. You accepted, the first time. Why?"
"Oh." I grin up at him, small black brush in hand. It's all I can do not to swipe it through his beard, just once. I want to see him smirk or become agitated. "Something my lover used to say."
Larry leans on the wall by the mirror and seems to know I'm contemplating doing something to tease him, because one hand is just about ready to deflect any approach on my part. "What did he used to say?"
"Well... He didn't used to say much of anything, really. I didn't... Have him long enough to hear him repeat most of his sentences and phrases. About the only thing he repeated that I remember him repeating was 'I love you'."
I realize that it takes several moments for Larry to react and suddenly I worry that I've offended him. I really don't want to have offended him. I'd do anything now to make him forget it if I said anything that offended him.
Finally he says, "That's why you came?"
I nod yes.
He smiles. Larry has dimples; they are nearly obscured by his beard, most of the time. I think he could stand a more boyish look, but who am I to talk. "I'm glad."
"Me too." Thank goodness, he knows enough about the pieces of me that need to be left where they are right now so that I don't put on anything but a professional face for the other art enthusiasts.
He leaves the topic details for after, in the dark, or some other time when we'll be talking alone over some drink or an art periodical. "Thank you," I add spontaneously.
"You're so welcome, Francis. I don't think you know how easy it is for me to say that. You are welcome."
"I feel welcome. Thank you."
Larry takes my arm to go out. "You're very nice to look at. I thought I'd say that now, before we spoke only on the appearances of Art."
I stop him at the door, turning to fix my eyes on his. "Thank you. You look wonderful, as well."
He dimples and almost turns his head away. Maybe I'm not the only one so easily affected.
"Let us go," he says with a dramatic cough. "You're making me feel unprofessional."
I grin. "Yes, let's. And I'm not sorry."
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