My church is by no means out in the boonies, despite being in a one stoplight town (which we don’t even actually need). Still, we take care of a variety of animals that have nowhere else to go, and when the roof of their building gets done in by a seriously strong thunder storm the congregation steps up to temporarily house the otherwise homeless animals.
This is how I found my tiny, 1980’s model single-wide trailer stuffed to the brim (and secret basement compartment? There wasn’t a lot down there, but there wasn’t nothing, either) with wild things. At least two tarantulas with bodies as big as my head, fuzzy and caramel colored like Fozzie the Bear shared a cage with a fox kit. A group of a mama duck and several ducklings, plus a one-eye-blind, fat, fat tabby had taken over my closet. Nieces and nephews crowded into the miniscule living room, which mainly boasted a much-too-big fold-out couch. Granted, the nieces and nephews weren’t part of the ecclesiastical zoo, but they were just as beastly.
The next morning, I pilfer donuts from the master bedroom in my mother’s apartment (I guess we live in a magical, place-changing abode); they’re half stale, and I can’t choose which I actually want, so I commit the sin of taking a bit from each one. Send my little brother off to school on his bike. I have no school to attend, just drama about all of us getting kicked out onto the street for reasons I don’t know. Perhaps our mother has offended someone, or not paid a debt, or any of the other irresponsibility that slip off her being like a native language. Whatever it is, she’s not around, and we’re cast from our belongings.
Apparently, HE is having none of this. Copper gold skin and eyes and charm coiled in layers around his person—I know his name, but I don’t say it, don’t think it, shy away from the fragility of it. He gathers me flush up against his side and drags me along, his smile and infectious confidence like a thread sewn down the seam of us, binding me to him. The force of his magnetism pulls in more people the closer we get to the apartment. His best friend, all red hair, all over. Jeremy and Stephanie, who break up and get back together so regularly you can set your watch by them, agree to help us break in just so we can get our stuff out. Cousins, charmed off of the rusty equipment at the complex playground.
Even the manager, who blusters and yells only when Ryan grabs the corner of the brick building and pries away one wall to gain access. He clears away a guitar in its case, a sax, some other instrument—perhaps a base drum.
"Hey," I say, clinging to the edge of the broken floor, putting a hand to Ryan’s shoulder. "There’s enough room for me to crawl through, unlock the door from the inside. Let’s get the rest that way."
But the manager, down on the grass, the soft, spongy grass below, calls up, irate and immutable. “You can’t do that! Only the King of the apartment can grant permission to take out belongings!” he huffs.
I drop to the spongy grass, knocking onto hands, rear end, and feet in my nearness. “I *am* the King,” I say, smiling him a dare to contradict me.
He scuttles back a foot, like a crab. “But you still need a second nationality to confirm the things are yours … “
Scanning the crowd, find a cousin, guide her before him with fingers cupped at the nape of her neck. “She’s half Puerto Rican. Will that do?”
His eyes bulge, doubtful, because the cousin I’ve grabbed is all over as pale as moonlight. She practically casts a lunar glow around herself. But, it’s true. She *is* actually half-Puerto Rican, so I feel no shame.
Whether he believes me or not, he nods. I smile at him, then at my friends, hanging from ledges, and swinging from handholds they’ve made of window boxes. “We’re good! Let’s come back later!”
I want to think of something else, do something else, and suddenly He and I are at the gym, and I’m contemplating some machine having to do with those muscles that make smart girls stupid. I don’t need to make any smart girls stupid, but I wouldn’t myself mind feeling a little more muscular, so I decide instead to use a machine something of a human-sized hamster ball. It’s all pinging wires straining at angles designed to make me work for the feeling of being in a flight simulator. I’m told I’m using it incorrectly, which surprises absolutely no one, but it’s okay, because the buses to take us to the festival in the quarter have arrived. Two or more pairs of fat and fluffy leathered headphones dangle over each seat bench so riders can enjoy music or silence on the trip.
But I don’t want to take the bus. Already hot, I want to walk, tracking myself down the scrollwork of a stairway. Hot breath pins Him to the wall, just enough humidity in the air and fresh sweat on our bodies that we need not worry about friction between them. Even with the temperatures soaring around us, the coolness of his skin makes my chest burn. It’s sticky, and I hate sticky, but I don’t hate this. I want more from it.
He kisses me through his smile. It’s a heaviness that makes no sense. Senseless, and overwhelming every sense I’ve got. A consumption.
"After this let’s go home, take showers, and *not* get dressed," I whisper, my face somehow having found his abdomen, which is soft and smooth, but so very slim, and my mouth grazing the bare belly-button where his shirt’s flipped up. His jeans aren’t new enough to cling any higher than the space just below his hipbones.
He smiles that smile again. I may have a heart attack, seriously. Just BOOM! But he grabs my hand, pointing over the railing, out of the shadows slicing across our enclosed space. “Look! And I’ve got a couple of free passes.”
A squashy older woman in a floral dress and squashier hat festooned with aging silk flowers stands at the ready behind the bar of a rickshaw. He wants to ride to the concert in that thing. I inspect the old lady again, doubting she can haul anything with speed, let alone a rickshaw carrying two people.
"Wait here for a bit, then," He says. "I’ll test her out first," and off He strides, almost hopping through the crowds in his enthusiasm before I even open my mouth to answer.
I ‘m sort of used to this kind of behavior. I sigh, knowing I couldn’t have stopped him, regardless. If I weren’t immune to blissful ignorance, I’d find this quality of His infectious. As it is, I’ve instead learned a lot about patience, because I love him. I think probably everybody loves him, but I do in the closest proximity.
Time on my hands, I look around to see what else might occupy them. All around me every horizontal surface is covered with coffee mugs spilling over with perennials. Flowers of every short, stunty variety, colorful and stubborn, strain against ceramics sporting logos and snarky comments. It’s a sea of seedlings and sarcasm.
Some radio station has set up a DJ booth, but instead of tunes being the main attraction, author and my own acquaintance, Heather Marie is doing a book signing. The promoter has done a bang-up job. Her name is EVERYWHERE. It’s on the plastic covering the insulation of a building under construction, for goodness’s sake. In screaming hot pink. Heather is doing well, buddy
Which is great, but not my business at the moment, because I’ve spotted a magazine, and there on one half of the center fold, unblemished by staples, He poses. And HE’s gorgeous, of course. He couldn’t be less than beautiful if he tried, as far I’m concerned. It isn’t fair, actually. There’s some short-haired female, but who cares. It isn’t her image chasing adrenaline down my veins..
How is it suddenly dusk? The sun has fallen in the sky as if it wanted to get a good look, too, and thrust itself too hard, overshooting the horizon. Naked lightbulbs dangle from wires strung overhead. The DJ announces there’s a prize for the first person who can answer the following question about Heather Marie.
"What celebrity musician told Heather on Instagram that turning 44 doesn’t matter at all?
I grin, knowing the answer even as the crowd surges forward, shouting themselves hoarse getting it wrong.
I laugh quietly to myself, quietly getting it right.
A giant of a man with the face and aura of John Torturo notices. He’s got to be eight feet tall. One of his hands could easily encircle my entire waist. He turns his face in the direction of the DJ and hollers that there’s a tiny little thing over here who knows, but the crowd is so loud the DJ can’t hear even him. I don’t mind.
Someone does eventually get the answer, and moments later the crowd disappears, a swarm of mosquitoes sensing fresh blood elsewhere. Now there’s room to lean against the booth, even a free barstool so I don’t need to stand. My eyes tease Heather while her husband starts packing out empties and balling up discarded shrink wrap behind her.
"How’s Dido lately, anyway. Had enough of her, yet?" I ask.
Heather ignores my question, her face a wreath of wryness. “You still waiting?”
Suddenly, the far away clouds seem very interesting.
Then there He is. Different rickshaw, different, driver, same would-be infectious smile, and He has my brother sitting next to Him, home from school, the straps of his backpack wound around his ankles to keep it from falling out.
The adrenaline chases down my veins again, slamming so hard into my nerve endings I suck in a shuddering breath to ease all this pressure in my chest.
I understand about the happiness attached to Him. I get it. Like the situation is a promise pirouetting on the tips of my fingers, one whorl from shattering completely.
How come this terror is so addictive?