New Wilomet Metropolis, season of Brumalia
“Do you believe in miraculous happenings, Meese?” Fae asked me the night of her first show without him.
We sat in her hotel suite awaiting a room service dinner. She’d just come off nearly two hours at the rope line, accepting condolences and words of support–this following a show like none even I had experienced in the months I’d been with her. She wore jeans and a flowing tunic. She glowed like the precious metal of the wedding band she still wore, no sign of fatigue or grief on her skin or in her clear blue eyes. And though her hair had silver amidst the gold, I’d have guessed her age at half what I knew it to be. Yes, I believed in miracles. I was looking at one.
“There were three associated with the accident that started all this,” she said, waving her fingers at face level to indicate her nearly sightless eyes. “Three I know of, anyway.
“The first was the witness called Archer. His statement said the taxi ran a red light and didn’t try to brake before broadsiding me.” Before I could ask why she considered that miraculous, she continued.
“I was asleep at the wheel–momentarily unconscious–and that turned out to be a miracle, too. If I had seen the crash coming, doctors say my injuries would have been more serious, probably fatal. I’m not saying my behavior was right, only that it may have saved my life.”
Room service arrived then and I excused myself to get the door, glad for a moment to absorb what she was telling me. Until now, neither Fae nor anyone close to her at the time of the accident had hinted she had been anything but a victim. And while it was no stretch to imagine pre-accident Fae blinking out, given what a workaholic control-freak CEO she’d apparently been, even the Fae I knew wasn’t a woman to go around admitting culpability. Not without good reason.
She had a reason, obviously. I watched two liveried hotel employees lay china and silver atop a white tablecloth, pour wine and toss salad as if they were Fae’s personal chefs. Both cast curious glances where she sat in the straight-backed chair matched to the suite’s writing desk.
“My mother has all your recordings,” offered the one pouring our wine, a boy too young to have publicly celebrated Brumalia more than once or twice.
She beamed. “How wonderful. What are you called?”
“Ronny. She’ll probably wet herself when I tell her I brought you dinner.” His partner elbowed him, presumably for the familiarity, while Fae approached the table and let her fingers explore the tableau they created with glassware and serving dishes. I listened with half an ear as she engaged them in more small talk, charming them both into a comfortable pride in their jobs.
This was not the woman I met a year ago–intimidating, easily offended and frequently provoked. She wasn’t even the woman I’d seen sing herself to exhaustion at her husband’s bedside, mere weeks ago. This woman had a power about her that went beyond presence.
When had it happened? Why hadn’t I noticed before now?
I gathered my wits in time to tip the uniformed help and add my thanks and seasonal wishes to Fae’s as they retreated from the suite. I held her chair and tucked her in at the table, all the hair on my arms lifting as if she were generating a charged field. She certainly stirred my imagination, but that was her job in a way.
The white tablecloth had been obscured by chilled dishes of every description, fruit and pickled vegetables, cheeses, olives, cold meats and colorful salads. We would be eating for some time to come. “Shall we call down a blessing before we begin?” she asked, stretching her hands across the table toward me. She missed dragging her sleeves or knocking anything over, which would have been an accomplishment even if she’d had normal vision. When I took her offered hands, she nodded to me and I made less-than-eloquent respects to Hestia, asking the goddess to bless our meal.
Try as I might, I couldn’t remember Fae saying a blessing for any of the dozens of meals I’d seen her eat, so imagine my surprise when she didn’t release my hands. Instead, she nodded acknowledgment of my prayer and added, “And may Hades nourish and keep safe my beloved until I see him again.”
Of course she’d remember her husband before eating. I splashed a double portion of wine in the gods saucer, properly humbled. Fae splashed just once, though not being able to see the saucer likely made her cautious. Her eyes glittered as she sipped and I realized, while helping her transfer a selection of delicacies to her plate, her eyes sparkled not with tears, but with merriment. Fae was trying not to laugh.
I paused with tongs full of shredded carrot salad. “What did I just miss?” I asked her.
“Did you drop something?” she asked, all innocence. “Seems I get food everywhere but on my plate, so if I find whatever you dropped, I’ll think I did it. No need to confess.”
“Not my confession. Yours. You’re like a schoolgirl with a secret.”
At that, she merely smiled, uncharacteristically coy. Once I had filled her plate, I tried again.
“You were telling me about last year’s accident,” I said, “but we were interrupted.”
“You want to hear about the third miracle.”
She picked up her wine glass, seeming to gaze into its depths. “I have so much to say to you, and I want it said tonight. I want it done.” She sipped. She raised her eyes and I swear, blind or no, her gaze touched mine. The hair along my arms stood up once again, as if she were channeling power from the gods.
“Let me eat, Meese. Let me eat, and I will tell you all my secrets.”
REID: What? You are tricking me.
MEESE: I’m asking about your old-school techniques for winning a lady’s favor. You helped Fae’s cousin, Tara, get an audience, am I right?
REID: Someone from Fae’s family–Tara, I guess–needs to talk about her company business and sends me in to check. When Fae is asleep, Tara goes in, waits, and talks to her while she is too groggy to chuck things.
MEESE: Fae’s famous temper.
REID: I don’t blame her. This proud lady gets in a wreck and she wakes to clouds in her eyes and hurts that don’t heal. She don’t even see faces no more. Her hand’s broke along with a bunch of other bones. There’s seizures and pain that don’t go away. She got to let others take over the company she loves. Yeah, she’s mad. You try it and see how you feel.
MEESE: That’s what drew you to her? Her pride?
REID: I only want to tell her she changes my life with her song. I got no illusions she can care about a fuck-up wheelchair jockey.
Eulalie Metropolis, September 1
Fae sat near the window of the glorified hospital room staff called a studio apartment, rubbing her crippled hand as if it would help the pain. The room smelled of disinfectant overlaid with expensive rose potpourri. She couldn’t comment on its decor.
This afternoon, she had dragged the rocking recliner here, pretending sunlight alone could chase away the aches from her body, the darkness from her spirit. It hadn’t, of course, and then the sun set, robbing her of even that most primitive of pleasures–the comfort of a warm glow, never mind how hazy her ability to see it.
A faint knock preceded the sound of the door latch and a sickly sweet wave of scent. Her physical therapist, she guessed, bringing another pop quiz to develop her senses.
“Stargazers,” she said with a sneer. Didn’t Dashiell know the work day was over and he was free to return to whatever life he had outside this pit of Tartarus?
Not Dashiell. She didn’t know this man’s voice.
“Stargazer lilies,” she said, swiveling her recliner to face the intruder. “Three or four of them at least.”
“Just three,” the stranger said. “Your eyes are better?”
Moron. He was lucky she had nothing in reach to throw. “My nose works fine. I’ve always been able to recognize Stargazers stinking up the place, like breaking a vial of cheap perfume in a small room.”
“I get you something else, then.” His voice held a strangely compelling depth. She never used to notice voices–wouldn’t Dashiell be proud. Pity this deeper-than-the-earth voice was attached to an imbecile.
Yet there was something familiar about his presence. “You’re the one who scouted for Tara, aren’t you?”
Whoever had repeatedly ducked in and out over the last however many days or weeks or who-the-Hades-knew, hadn’t said a word. How she could know him? Another one of those other senses, she supposed.
“Tara, my cowardly cousin,” she said, choosing to continue her attack. “She sent you to find out if it was safe for her to come in.” At least until Fae had signed over control of her company. Once she’d accomplished that, Tara no longer took the chance of getting within range.
“Your eyes are better.”
“My eyes are not better. Would you shut up about my eyes?” She swiveled the chair away from him, mortified to feel anxiety flutter beneath her easy anger. It usually waited for bedtime, ambushing her after the daytime bustle of Cypress Crossing gave way to endless, quiet hours, whispering she was a cripple now, powerless and alone, that all her practiced control couldn’t keep her safe in this dark, new world. How dare it threaten her now, in front of a stranger, a stranger who not only hadn’t left, but who’d come closer. She could smell the flowers, and then there was that sense of him, the same wary presence she’d felt before Tara’s visits. He might be close enough to touch her. What did he want from her? Why didn’t he speak?
“Who are you?” She meant to spit the words at him, but her voice faltered. Her whisper hung in the air waiting for him to decide what to do with it.
“Nobody,” he said, sounding what, sad? “I work here.” He was standing by her chair, his voice unusually far above her. Tall, maybe taller than she was. And that voice. She didn’t understand its affect on her. She wanted to hear more, but she needed him to go away–give her a chance her plug the holes in her self-control.
“Well, Nobody, maybe you’ll put those lilies in water.” Her tone should send him away without her having to say it. Sharp. Irritable. Tone made a poor substitute for control, but it was all she had left.
Reid looked around Fae’s studio for something he could use. Aside from the pneumatic bed and the medical equipment flanking it, this might be somebody’s living room, with its nice lounge chair and sofa and such. People came to Cypress Crossing from Mercy and other hospitals, people who needed time and help to get well after strokes and bad accidents like Fae’s. Staff were supposed to call them residents, not patients, to help them feel at home.
Fae’s desk held a stack of manila file folders stuffed with papers. Her business stuff, he guessed, and the boxy machine beside it, a device to help her read. The machine’s power cord dangled off the edge of the desk, unplugged. The oversized screen on her breakfast table was also dark.
He found what he wanted on the low bookcase near the door–three vases, empty and clean. Also a teddy bear wearing a Get Well Soon T-shirt. Someone had once cared enough to send gifts and wishes, maybe even the woman Fae had accused him of helping–more than he could hope for if he were in Fae’s shoes. But how much could anyone really care if having a few things chucked at them kept them away?
He chose a tall vase of cut glass, hoping it might catch light. He was pretty sure Fae could see light. It was hard not to stare at her.
The sharp creases in her tailored slacks and the sleeves of her blouse were a far cry from the rumpled pajamas with oversized buttons she wore at night. But then, she had been some sort of high-powered executive, hadn’t she? Her family visitor had hinted as much. Easy enough to believe Fae had been the kind of person who walked fast, talked fast and never doubted herself. Only the soft blue of her blouse hinted at the worries she kept hidden, singing them in the dark when she thought she was alone–that and her watering eyes and her hair, a crown of blonde and silver curls that looked softer than fleece. “You say you work here, Nobody?” she asked.
“Don’t call me ma’am.” So much for softness.
“I don’t mean nothing by it.”
“Nothing and Nobody, huh? That gets us Nowhere. What are you really called?”
“Reid.” The way she said it had the same sharp creases as her clothing, as if she already recognized the disappointment his name represented.
All he could think to say was “yes, ma’am,” so he kept quiet, carried the cellophane-wrapped flowers into her bathroom and filled the vase with water.
“Say something else, Reid.”
“Like what, ma’am?” He cursed himself for the slip. “Sorry. It come out without thinking.”
“Call me Fae.”
He had nothing to say to that. It didn’t take long for her face to cloud over again and she turned to the dark window, dismissing him. He searched for the best place for the flowers, tasting bile. Even though he’d gone a long string of days without getting fucked up, his body hadn’t finished punishing him. Muscles all over twitched for no reason, when he didn’t hurt so bad it was hard to move. At least he was done with diarrhea and wasn’t puking as often. Some days he felt nearly normal, except for being so tired. Sleep was dodging him like a deadbeat, with him a bill collector. But today was when Athena sent snakes to tell him, stop being the coward who sneaks in to listen to the voice that could change everything, stop sneaking and be a man, no excuses.
The lilies looked good next to her bed and he liked the idea of her being able to smell them when she was lying there, but she could knock the vase off, and that meant broken glass she wouldn’t see. He moved them to the breakfast table.
She sat so stiff, so cut off, he wanted to comfort her, but what could he offer a lady like Fae? She had asked him to speak. He could do that for her.
“My bus stop is pink with crape myrtle dust. Flowers blow off in that storm, I guess, and make carpet for autumn to dance on.” He didn’t dare look at Fae for fear of coming face to face with a Nobody look. “Today I smell it coming, and winter to sweep up after, but the sun still thinks it is high summer. It is a day sent to remind us we are alive.”
“Take me,” she said.
“Ma’am? Uh, Fae?” An anther dusted his finger with orange pollen as he bumped it in surprise. She sounded both eager and scared, which seemed even more unlikely than her words. Must be his imagination.
“Outside,” she said. She swiveled the chair toward him and stood slowly. “I want to smell the autumn. I want to imagine its dance.” The sharpness had left her face and he could more clearly see the vulnerable woman who’d heard him one night, in her room, and sat up in bed. He’d waited then, hiding in the dark. The time for hiding was over.
“It is okay I do that?” he asked.
She swayed and sat down abruptly. Her mouth tightened as her fingers dug into the arms of the chair’s upholstery, and seeing her pain, he thought maybe she shouldn’t go anywhere, but she blew out her breath and again climbed to her feet. “It’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do all day,” she said with dignity. “No one else bothered to tell me these things were waiting for me. My therapist can only think to say it’s good for me to get out, to build balance and confidence. Walking with him is like walking with a machine. I would far rather walk with a poet.”
Poet. She was talking about him. Lightheaded, he guided her from the room.
As they passed the nursing station, Nestle greeted Fae and her “visitor,” as if she didn’t recognize him out of his whites, his hair combed. A pretty redhead in an nursing assistant’s uniform smiled at him, so she didn’t know him either. Guess it had been awhile since he’d made an effort.
Fae was clinging to him as they shuffled through the automatic doors to one of Cypress Crossing’s many garden courtyards, but she loosened her death grip somewhere between the old fashioned street lamp and a fountain with dramatic lights in the water, tucking her hand in the crook of his elbow as if they were old friends.
“Do you smell that?” She stopped walking.
“Smell what?” Seemed normal enough to him.
“Fertilizer? No…” She sniffed cautiously. “Could be a pesticide, but it doesn’t smell like something that came from a lab. Maybe a natural treatment.”
“Bad? We walk inside if you like.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s nice to think my nose is noticing things other people miss.” She wiped her cheeks with her other hand to catch at the water that constantly welled in her eyes. It didn’t look right, that hand, as if she held barley in her palm. He was pretty sure it had been all taped up when she first came over from Mercy.
“Maybe the gods Gift you with a portent.”
She snorted. “Clearly. Remind me–who was the god of pungency? I’ll be sure to make an offering.”
“Not like that,” he blurted. “I only mean the gods favor you.”
Her lips pressed in something that might have been a smile if she weren’t shaking her head at his ignorance. “If the year I’m having is any indication of ‘favor,’ it’s easy to see why gods went out of style, along with the superstitious nonsense that went with them. Like portents.”
So gifted. So proud. He didn’t dare tell her of Athena’s snakes, how they’d twined together on the T-shirt he’d left on the floor of his rented room, urging him–telling him–to go to Fae. Who was he, after all, next to her. She had schooling and sophistication, some kind of business, and family who cared at least a little. He had nothing but sobriety and he wouldn’t have that if he hadn’t taken it without even telling her he was in her room.
All they had in common was pain.
“You’re not speaking,” she said, her brow furrowing. “Is there nothing out here worth describing?” She tugged gently at his elbow, and they were walking again.
“You are more tall than I think,” he blurted. Seeing her in her chair, he hadn’t guessed she would be able to look him in the eye, if ever she might look his way. Or see.
“That bothers you?” Her hair lost all color out here under the soft artificial light. Ghostly.
“I like it,” he confessed. “I feel giant a lot.”
“I know the feeling.” She hugged his arm and his elbow brushed her body. “Talk.”
“Uh,” he said. The shock of feeling her body press against him left his head empty of words. He’d wanted to touch her, to soothe her, to share some of the strength she gave him. To thank her for what he’d taken from her. Never had he imagined she might touch him. His gut gurgled and he struggled to regain control. Zeus, what must his breath be like with all this bile loose in his body?
She traded the arm hug for a loose hold on his bicep. “That fountain is so loud I can’t hear whether there are birds. Make me a poem so I can see.”
She thought he was a poet, someone who could show her the world in words. She didn’t know he was a fuck-up so pathetic he’d come to work because one of Mercy’s doctors looked a little like him and Reid thought he might be his dad, not that he’d ever know for sure. “They call it Peace Garden,” he said, and she smiled, maybe because the fountain was anything but quiet. “No blossom dust here, very clean, more easy to walk than my place.” A lady like Fae likely had a big house in Springtide or another rich part of town, likely had never even been to the Meadows. As it should be. “Young trees reach up to find the dawn,” he said, looking at the fresh plantings, “but all things yawn when winter comes close. Flower beds wear pansy quilts.”
“Pansy quilts,” she murmured. “Show them to me. Are they here, next to the path?” Her free arm pendulumed in the direction they’d been walking.
“Both sides,” he told her. She sank to her knees in her nice suit pants, fingers finding the edge of the sidewalk, exploring the ruffles of the pansy blossoms before burrowing into the dirt. Her right hand burrowed more weakly than her left, but she lifted handfuls of earth to her face and inhaled with obvious pleasure.
Reid grinned. He had brought her pleasure.
She touched the dirt with the tip of her tongue, then spit it out. Her laughter said her sharp-pressed clothes maybe weren’t the real Fae, that left to herself, she’d be in T-shirts and sandals. She’d be someone he could touch.
The dirt she’d held showered back to the ground. “Reid?” she said, her left hand looking for him in the wrong place.
“Here.” He put his arm in her path, but when she wobbled, he nearly missed saving her from a tumble. “Sorry,” he said, fumbling to help without groping her.
She was panting, cheeks flushed with panic from her near fall. He needed to say something, something to help. “We get you to stand up,” he said, his so-called poetry escaping him. At least he’d made his voice casual, as if there’d been no scramble.
She smoothed her shirt and shook out her sleeves, though it was her slacks that needed brushing. “That’s not usually a problem,” she said, her voice bitter, her movements small and controlled. Fearful. “I believe that’s enough dancing for today. Take me back to my room.”
Good idea. His muscles were twitching again, one leg especially. But she wasn’t through surprising him.
She dropped her hold on his arm the moment he opened her studio door. In here, she moved more confidently, heading toward her bathroom door with barely a brush of her fingers across the metal footboard of her bed. She didn’t close the door.
He was still trying to decide whether he’d been dismissed and been too stupid to notice, when she said, “It helps.” She stood in the bathroom doorframe sipping a glass of water. “Walking with a tall man, I mean. Dashiell is so skinny, he seems shorter to me. I sometimes feel I’ll crush him if I fall on him.” She cocked her head as if listening to something far away, shrugged and sipped. “Funny. I hadn’t made the connection until just now.”
Was she complimenting him or wanting reassurance? “Dashiell is strong enough,” he said, pressing his hand against a thigh muscle to stop it jumping.
“So I’ve learned. He’s had to catch me more than once.” Her mouth turned up at the ends, but it wasn’t a smile, at least not a happy one. She drained the rest of the water. “Perhaps you’ll come by again anyway. Perhaps earlier? I’d prefer to walk while the sun’s out.”
“Me?” he blurted. “Yes! I come whenever you like.”
This time when it moved, her mouth looked happier. “Tomorrow, then.”
He came not just the next day, but every afternoon, walking with her until dinner hour, Fae getting him to talk all the time about what he saw. The more he did it, the more amazed he felt that she listened so carefully, as if his words mattered.
But when he took his new courage to Darwin, returning the last of the pills and shit he no longer wanted to sell, he had to miss a day with Fae. Taking the beating was no big deal, especially after surviving the pain of withdrawal. It was his landlady chucking him out, offended he wanted to pay rent in cash instead of junk, that made life hard. He didn’t have time to look for a place. His days were about working, sweating at the employee gym to be at least as strong as Dashiell, and of course, his walks with Fae.
He crashed at Mercy in a storage room behind giant, dusty cartons of light bulbs for a few hours, and showered at the gym before hurrying through the connecting underground passage to Cypress Crossing to see her.
Nestle stopped him with the sound of her voice. “I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what a mistake it would be to take advantage of one of our residents.”
“A little bruising would be the least of your worries.” Though she was Lead on this shift, she sat the duty nurse’s station, probably covering for one of her team the way she did, and her gaze never left the view screen as she added, “If she did that to you, her aim has improved.”
Reid heard the threat beneath her mild tone, same as her dark skin made a thundercloud contrast against the healer’s-blue tailored suit she wore. She could wither him with a look over those half-glasses she wore if he weren’t already still limp all the time from getting fucked up so often. This was different.
“Who do you mean?” he asked.
“Nothing wrong with taking an interest in our residents, or they in you, I suppose. Just understand I place the safety and well-being of our residents over all else–including the difficulty of recruiting third-shift orderlies.” Here, she did give him the look. The way her voice dropped promised menace and mayhem if he crossed whatever line she’d drawn. He believed her, but he wasn’t hurting Fae. He’d never. Every time she urged him to speak, he felt important like he never had before.
Nestle’s glare softened to a more familiar disgust. “You look like something the Sphinx coughed up.”
He touched his split lip. Darwin’s thugs had enjoyed making him a billboard for their boss. He smoothed back his wet hair and tucked his shirt into his jeans. Sure, he was busted up, but he was clean, and not just from the shower. Maybe his brain would give him more poetry for Fae.
Nestle said, “I heard she was asking about you, so you’d best be on, as long as we’re clear. We are clear, orderly?”
“Yes, ma’am.” He nodded emphatically, lightheaded at the news Fae had asked about him.
He should have known better. Fae sat on her couch in front of the television, her back to the hall as newscasters droned on. He knocked on the doorframe to announce his arrival.
She didn’t turn around. “What is it?”
“It’s me. Reid.”
She still didn’t turn around, didn’t get up. He wouldn’t expect her to, but she usually did, a fact that had become the highlight of his days. Except for when she smiled at him, eclipsing all other pleasures. But today, she said, “Why?”
“Stop standing at the door. Come in and tell me why you’re here.” She sounded impatient, like the Lead on his old ward at Mercy always had. Made him feel especially stupid.
He said, “I interrupt?”
“Not really. Television isn’t much without vision.”
“Guess not.” Fae had begun wearing jeans for their walks lately, but today she was back in sharp-pressed clothes with nothing to gentle the long, stiff line of her.
He stood by the TV as it delivered unhappy stories of missing children and unsolved murders. If more people honored the old ways, the gods wouldn’t work so hard to call attention, at least to his way of thinking. But even those as blessed as Fae missed seeing how every life is shaped by the gods’ hands, every day.
She said, “What’s on your mind, Reid?”
“You. I hear you ask for me?”
“Ask for you?”
He’d never felt less welcome here, even when she still chucked things at all who dared to enter. “Nestle says so.”
“Well, she’s mistaken. I didn’t–.” Fae interrupted herself, furrowing her brow. “–ah. I think I know what happened.” She picked up the remote and shut off the television, giving him her attention at last.
Rather than thrill him, her smile chilled him with its wrongness. Something had happened to make her wary, make her mean. She said, “Your latest conquest was here yesterday, worrying about you. I asked a couple of questions, and somehow word gets to Nestle I’m asking for you.”
He felt too confused to retreat. “Conquest?”
“The nursing assistant called Casillas. She sounds very young, and she over-shares.”
“Casillas.” She must be the pretty redhead who was always around when he was in the building. If she kept that up, she might learn where he was sleeping now. Probably wanted in his pants, but even if his dick ever decided to work again, he’d rather be here. With Fae, he knew it wasn’t his looks she wanted.
“Sorry you stopped by for nothing. I know this isn’t your shift.” Fae’s voice was a door she was trying to slam in his face.
“I want to,” he said, trying not to panic. “Makes me glad to stop by. To see you. And Casillas? She is sometimes working when I come in. Very young. What does she say?”
“That she didn’t realize you were pretty as Apollo until she saw us together. That being good to the infirm–by which, she meant me, of course–only makes you sexier. And that, if I could find out for her whether you’ve got a girlfriend, she’ll make me a halvah cake.” Fae’s tone was getting nastier. Sweat rolled down Reid’s back as he struggled to stay here and try to figure this out rather than run away.
Fae said, “I have no interest in being the blind confessor or the matchmaker or anything else that requires me caring about who is sleeping with whom or, Zeus help me, who likes whom. Ask her out. Have a great time. Just don’t tell me about it.” She reached again for the remote.
No. He couldn’t speak for the redhead or whoever, but he could speak for himself. He blurted, “I don’t want her. I got love already. She wakes my heart with her singing. She don’t know how blessed she is.”
“A singer and a poet?” Her voice softened while she pulled at the gold and platinum curls that tickled her neck, like maybe this was just polite talk and her attention had wandered. “Sounds like a perfect match. Congratulations.”
He’d been called a lot of things. Poet had never been one of them. Until her.
She cocked her head at him, the remote sagging in her distracted grip. “What is it, Reid?”
“Me, poet.” Grinning hurt his lip. He didn’t care.
She lowered the remote. “I hear you smiling.”
It was true. A full-blown smile washed over her face, chased by a flush of pink that made her young. “Hearing your voice is my favorite part of our walks. A sort of distant rumble like the memory of an earthquake. Deep, but safe.” The pink flush persisted. She was blushing. Reid’s pulse galloped.
“Wow,” was all he could say.
“If more of the voices on TV were like yours, I’d probably leave it on all night.” She gave the remote a little pat where it lay on the sofa beside her.
His heart skipped, his breath shallow. All night with Fae. Did she know about him listening? Had she known all this time?
Her shoulders straightened, her smile becoming merely polite as she seemed to close up on herself. “That wasn’t a come-on, Reid. Now I know you’re taken, there’s no harm in letting you know you have a great voice. Do you mind?”
“No, no, please. I don’t say no when someone is nice.” Not just someone. “You. It’s good.” Not just good. “Great. I wish I know what to say, is all.”
“Me, too,” she said, thankfully not so guarded.
She didn’t know. That’s what he’d hoped, so why did he feel disappointed about it?
“So, talk to me.” She slid to the far end of the sofa, moving the remote to the low table that flanked it, inviting him to sit with her. Maybe he would tell her. Maybe he would tell her everything. He eased down on the sofa.
She said, “Do you want more light? I’ve lost the habit of turning them on. When there’s nothing moving in here but me, they’re not much help.” Her impersonal tone couldn’t be more at odds with his racing thoughts.
“You see things move?” He’d avoided asking questions like this after she’d snapped at him that first time.
“Sometimes. If you were to pace around, I could track you, but only with plenty of light–and only if you were wearing a color that stood out against the background.”
Huh. He looked around the room, wondering if he had any shirts she might see in here. Unless she meant she didn’t care if she saw him. He asked, “Do you see faces?”
“When doctors lean close to examine my eyes, I have a sense of where their features are, but if I recognize a doctor, it’s usually by the sound of her breathing or the smell of his after shave.”
He was still absorbing this information when she added, “Will you tell me about your musician?”
Another surprise. Why had he ever thought he could talk to someone so smart? “You say you don’t want to hear.”
That pink color touched her cheeks again. “I only meant–.” She smoothed her hands over her slacks, not looking in his direction. “Please tell me about her.”
There was a vulnerability in her voice he hadn’t heard except when she sang, and a rush of empathy made him forget his own hesitations. He said, “She sings. Nothing like it on Earth. First time I hear, I want to die, to hope for Hades to send me to Elysium, so I can be where this angel lives.”
“What does she look like?” Her raised eyebrows seemed exaggerated, as if asking not from curiosity, but pain.
“At first, I don’t notice,” he said honestly. “My eyes don’t matter, I only want to hear.”
“Lucky girl. What about now?”
He let the words come as he drank her in. “Beautiful. Blonde, tall, long legs. Hard times make her eyes sad, but eyes are not hearts. Her heart makes music I change everything to hear, because my heart knows–knows–this music matters more than any eyes, any job, any words. This music matters more than I ever do.”
She touched one of her curls, that distracted look coming over her again. “Very romantic, Reid, but I have to say, it doesn’t sound healthy. What kind of changes are you making for this girl?”
Some poet he was. He couldn’t even make her see how important this was. He had to explain. “I take pills. Oxys, when I get my hands on them. Or Xanax or Paxipam, and then something to get going again. Anything to stay fucked up.”
She flinched and her eyes went wide. “That’s now? You’re high now?”
“No, no, no. Before we meet. No more. I hear her sing and don’t need no junk.”
Fae said, “So she sings about why it’s dangerous to do drugs?”
This would be so much easier if he could just talk right. “When she sings, I hear somebody need to be more strong than she thinks she can be. So beautiful and sad. It makes me want to be more strong, too.”
“Impressive. She must be very talented.” Fae gave her slacks another smoothing. He tucked his hands beneath his ass to keep himself from reaching for her.
“Yes. You are blessed.” He hadn’t meant to say that.
“Her,” she corrected. “That is to say, ‘she is blessed.’“ She still didn’t get it.
He was sweating again. Would he tell her, or was he still a coward, hiding in the dark?
“Reid? What’s going on?” Her nervous hands looked for something to do, something to hold, maybe something to throw.
He swallowed against the lump in his throat. “You. You are the one that changes me.”
©2010 Sally Felt