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Book 1 – Chapter 5 – Perelandria Regained – Part 3

Jacob paced, biting a fingernail. “Do you mind if I sit?” he said. Simon rose and took Jacob in his arms. Jacob fell into him and they rocked together. Jacob petted the back of his neck. Jacob calmed his sobs and Simon guided him to the sofa.

I sat upright. “You mind if I take a bath?” I said.

Jacob nodded. “Use whatever you want.”

I picked up my toiletries bag and ran hot water until every square inch of the old bathroom was steamed. I was so grateful for it, I had to add cold water until I didn’t scald myself.

I tried to nap but the tub’s edge was too hard for resting. I brushed my pruned fingers against my face and still didn’t believe I had driven him away. I thanked the stars Jacob was one of the few guys who owned a hair dryer.

Simon and Jacob were cuddling on the couch in an embrace that would’ve made more sense in college. Simon had his coat off. Jacob’s head nuzzled his shoulder. His fingers rotated idly on Simon’s arm.

Leon had not returned and no one had called the police on us.

Simon swallowed while the bathroom steam drifted over him. “We have another problem,” he said to me. “We threw out Leon’s set of house keys to him.”

“He must have left them in his pants,” Jacob said. “I looked everywhere. I couldn’t find them.”

“What are we going to do?” I said.

“I’ll pick him up a new lock at Home Depot tomorrow,” Simon said. “I’ll bring it by and install it until the landlord can replace it.”

“That’s fine,” Jacob said. “I have the chain latch. I’m not going anywhere.”

“Not even for water?” I said.

Jacob sat up and stretched his arms out. “Especially not for water.”

He hurried by me and shut the bathroom door behind him.

I flopped next to Simon. His cheeks had sunken into jowls. “Is your tail all right?” he said.

It curled beside me. “Seems to be,” he said.

“You were worried about it before.”

“I’m worried about it now. And I’m hungry. Are you hungry?”

“That was stupid, what you did.”

I stared out the tiny window. The sky was pure blue, with all the clouds frozen away. “I did what I had to do.”

“It was still stupid.”

“He’s gone, isn’t he?”

“You could have been hurt.”

“Simon, I’m not a kid.”

“You were on all fours, making fake growl noises. It’s cute when kindergartners do it it’s freaky when you do it.”

I didn’t want to argue. “But he’s gone,” I said.

Jacob came out of the bathroom with a tin of breath mints I hadn’t heard of. He offered it to us. “A friend gave me these from a trip to France,” he said, “You have to try them. They’re really strong.”

Simon’s lips buckled inward when he sucked on his. I had to have one.

My mint was wretchedly bitter when I licked it. When I chewed it, it spread the awful gunk everywhere. I spat it into my hands.

Jacob grabbed a tissue and wiped my palm clean. “I’m so sorry,” he said, “No one’s ever done that before.”

I kept spewing to wipe my mouth clean. “Probably a bad one,” I said, “I’ll be fine. Drink?”

“Juice? Soda? Water?”

“Juice, please. Any.”

After a cup of juice, my mouth was less of a living hell for my tongue. “Look at you,” Simon said, “Little miss demon slayer felled by a bad mint,”

“Buddha died from eating a batch of bad beans,” Jacob said.

“And that monk from the koan had a leper’s finger fell off in his begging bowl, and he died of leprosy,” I said.

Simon reached over for the pile of menus beside Jacob’s phone. “On that note,” he said, “Is anyone up for lunch?”

I certainly was.

Jacob was much more sociable with the grilled Italian in his hands.

<hr>

I fell asleep on his couch after the food. Our meal was necessary, with thick crusty bread over tomatoes and chicken. I curled up to digest it and I was sucked away from this life. The sun was on its way down when I woke. Simon had left hours ago.

Jacob had settled on his bedroom with a pile of comics.

I knocked on his bedroom wall. “I’m heading out now,” I said.

He blinked at the clock. “Wow,” he said. He rolled himself to the floor and fetched my coat. “Did Simon ever tell you about Bland Zones?”

I bundled myself under the humming bulb in the kitchen. “I don’t think so.”

“You know the law of averages is a real law,” he said, “If you flip a coin so many times, it always hits heads half the time. So if something really improbable happens in one place, there has to be somewhere else where everything stays ordinary. That’s a Bland Zone.”

He slid the latch open in the hall lights were on. “And we made a big one in here today?” I said.

“A hella big one,” he said, “I like interesting times.”

“I can take or leave them,” I said.

“Either way. Thank you for coming, and everything,” he said, “Safe trip home. Stay interesting.”

Sleeping in the afternoon keeps me drowsy, and I was doped up on natural morphine. I gave him a reluctant hug. His heart had stopped.

I strode downstairs in a state not unlike the 5 A.M. walk of shame on my college campus.

I decided to go straight to the restaurant, which was a significant ride on the train. I was sure there was a quicker route through the bus lines but usually it’s better to go the way you know.

JP Sushi was easy to miss by the firehouse at the end of Center Street. They had stenciled their name on a window and it blended with the plants hanging inside. I missed it the first time.

I asked the hostess if Elory had arrived yet, but she hadn’t. The waiting room didn’t have a lamp so I asked her for a table. Every chair, bar and piece of trim seemed to be carved from balsa wood. The crowd was well-dressed; I felt dorky with my jeans. I asked for a small booth by the window. The slats on the back of the chair wide enough. I ordered a soda. The menu looked too good and too pricey to do this more than once a year.

I barely recognized Elory when she arrived. She had brushed her hair into a waterfall, and I could make out the shape of her head. She wore a low cut silk blouse, which revealed her cleavage on the top. She had nude hose under her skirt with high-heeled deerskin boots. She held a freaking purse in her hand. Her lips were painted in this everlasting pout. The hostess led her to my table.

“What the hell happened to you?” I said.

Elory struck two poses to show off each side of her face. “You know, I had to learn this from a drag queen,” she said, “Where I grew up in Illinois, they’d burn me for the whore of Babylon.”

I scanned the menu again. “Are you going somewhere after this?” I said.

“I might be,” she said, “Mostly, I haven’t done it in a while. How often do you dress up?”

I smiled and shook my tail.

“Anyway, it’s been an odd week,” she said, “How about you?”

“Bland,” I said, “Except for today.”

“Why, what happened?”

“I spent the day kicking a psycho guy out of an apartment,” I said, “For Simon’s old boyfriend.”

“That’s always fun,” she said, “Changing the locks?”

“Yup. The roommate still has the key.”

Elory poured over the menu with an elbow on the table. “He’ll hang onto that key like it’s hair for voodoo ritual,” she said, “Do you want to split a plate of yellowtail?”

I hadn’t eaten too long ago but my stomach burbled for more. “Sure,” I said, “And a few salmon?”

We checked off our order with the tiny pencils just large enough to fit up one’s nose. I twirled mine in front of her. “What do you think’s paying for these?” I said.

“The drinks menu,” she said, “Are you partaking?”

“Maybe later,” I said, “How about you?”

“I don’t drink,” she said.

I looked her straight in her eyeliner. “That’s not what Nova said.”

“That’s exactly why,” she said, “Speaking of which, have you had any word from the doctor yet?”

“Nope,” I said. I handed my card off to the passing waitress. I flipped over the special’s card on the table to make sure the same text was on the other side. “Do you think there’s a wrong way to get someone out of an apartment?”

“Uh-huh,” she said, “Did you find it?”

“Yes,” I said and twisted my fingers over my lips, “But you have to keep this between us. Simon is really mad at me over it.”

She nodded. “Go on.”

“This guy Leon really got under my skin,” I said, “He was King Mooch and he wouldn’t budge. I even invited him back to my apartment. And get this, he was selling off toasters and DVD players from the apartment to pay for drugs he never took. He completely shut down Simon’s ex whenever he spoke up.”

I gestured her to come closer. “I flipped out at him. I was really stupid. I bit his nose and his arms. He attacked me and I attacked him. I grabbed him and pulled him. It wasn’t self defense. It was childish, you know? I freaked him out and chased him down the stairs. If he had wanted to, he could’ve hurt me and locked me out. I just did it.”

“It’s okay. It’s over,” she said, “What you’re describing is a panic attack, but channeled. That’s fairly impressive, actually, that you focused it on one person.”

“It wasn’t like that. He was stupid,” I said, “I was thrashing around.”

“That’s what stress does,” she said, “And it doesn’t sound as if you’re over it yet. Sleep on it. That’s all I can say. Figure it out tomorrow.”

I considered how I would know if I was a rational. I had wanted Leon gone. I could picture him tearing open the repairman’s letter in my basement for the money. This slithered on the edge of my thoughts, and reminded me that I could snap again. “I guess,” I said.

“You can sulk if you want,” she said, “I’m having yellowtail.”

I scanned the zodiac in my placemat. “Is there a kind of berserker rage that steals your strength to make you smarter?”

“You need a good source to get those sorts of drugs,” she said.

“Okay, what’s up with you?” I said, “You’re in a really good mood.”

“I tracked down a friend of mine who writes a column for Salon.com,” she said, “He’s really smart. He’s one of those friends I wished I’d stayed in touch with.”

“Uh huh,” I said, “Will there be any sex involved?”

“I’m not so much into his body,” she said, “I tracked down some pictures of him and he’s squishier.”

“There you go again,” I said, “Sneaking information behind people’s backs.”

“You know they’re used to be a time when that was the polite thing to do,” she said, “People open up more when you know the same gossip they do and you know what their hot buttons are.”

“It’s what the preppy girls at my high school used to do,” I said, “I don’t get it.”

“Do you want to?” she said.

“Sure,” I said.

The waitress arrived for their plates of pink and yellow wrapped-fish. We broke open our chopsticks and picked off our pieces with hunks of wasabi.

“I contacted a host of people I used to know,” she said, “And with most of them, we said ‘hi,’ and we reverted to the way we used to be when we last spoke, years ago. Or I felt I was intruding. Imagine calling your therapist at home to see how she’s doing.”

She ate slice of pickled ginger, raw.

“The last few decades haven’t been kind to anyone I know,” she said, “I was lucky enough to spend a few years visiting New York and San Francisco before the plague hit in the eighties. I remember I went to meetings where the women I would dote on, in my own babydyke days, sat down and said ‘We’re not going to let all this death stop us.’ Of course, it already did. We did understand it until Marie and Bruce and a lot of other people were taken. Basically, the survivors got married, or they jumped ship. I tried for marriage but I never quite got there.”

She shook her chopsticks in midair for moment.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “Anyway, the science-fiction and the fetish circuit had pretty much the same crowd. Keep this in mind; I figured out how to stay active and well-known. It wasn’t about who kept a room free for parties. It wasn’t even about who slept with who. I knew some very clueless people who did both but had hideous reputations. No, I found out who the most popular people were, and I made friends with them. And I kept in good standing because of what I had to offer them.”

Another smile, and she goaded me into asking, “What?”

“Magic,” she said, “I loved to mind-fuck with my dates, and apparently I was very good at it.”

“I’ve tried that,” I said, “But it’s way too much work. I tried using the edge of the dog comb as a knife on one of my girlfriends, but she saw through it.”

“Here’s what I did once,” she said and illustrated her point with her chopsticks, “I bought two knives and dipped the edge of one in plastic to hide the blade. I started playing with this redhead – she was wonderful, she squealed so much – and I fluttered the sharp knife in front of her. I let her lick it and I ran it over her so she understood it had an edge. Then, I switched them and slid the coated one into her pussy. He should’ve seen the look on her face. She held herself so still,” she mimicked the terrified bug-eyes of the girl, “I know a few other people who borrowed that trick from me.”

“I think I’ve heard of that one from somewhere,” I said.

She leaned away to crack her neck. “Anyway,” she said, “I’m a complete introvert, really. But this is what I had to do to move from friend to friend, especially when the circle started marrying off or dying. And I hit a glass wall in my own growth. I had some tremendous out-of-body experiences with BDSM play which opened all sorts of insights for me. Connections between common things that nobody ever thinks about. But even those became repetitive. You know one of those stories of the Buddha, when he was still learning from yogis, he came to the understanding that, ‘I’ve been off visiting distant worlds, talking with gods, humming with the universe, but when I’m done, I come back and I’m my same old self again.’ So I started to read about other faiths and asked around about who has openings in their congregations. Fortunately, the science-fiction and the Pagan crowd had pretty much the same crowd.”

“I’ve noticed,” I said, “And it’s not only you. My best friends in college, the ones I spent every weekend with, all moved out of state to get married. One girl, Jennifer, is with an utter dick. I don’t understand what happened to her.”

“We all want a family,” she said, “And we don’t want certain people to have families. A lot of the lesbians I knew bitched me and my girlfriends out when we weren’t as radically boring as they were. Femme was a dirty word and leather was for the boys. I’m glad that you don’t have to deal with that.”

“Same here,” I said, “That must have sucked. But still, my own ‘family’ keeps falling apart. Della’s out there saying God knows what about me, and Simon’s moving away with his boyfriend as soon as he can. Trisha’s close but not that close and honestly, she’s trans and that’s a whole-nother world that I don’t understand. I haven’t been to a fetish party since Angie and I broke up. You can’t go to one without somebody; nobody picks up play partners at a party anymore. That’s all done in MySpace and LiveJournal now.”

She nodded. “It’s hard. Have you posted on MySpace that you have a tail?”

“That would go over well.”

“Who knows? It might.”

Most of my sushi was devoured, but her plate was full, from all her talking. She scooped up a piece and savored it. “So the world’s shrinking. I just don’t want to offend.”

“I just apologize if I say something wrong,” I said.

“It’s harder to do when you aren’t in your twenties,” she said, “People expect you should know better. Not that you do.”

“Yeah. My mom was only a couple years older than I am when she had me,” I said, “It’s scary. She wasn’t ready.”

Elory caught up with her sushi. She even pulled one half-piece from her mouth to dip it in wasabi. “Parenting’s not my bag,” she said, “I’d rather come home to a honey and a new episode of Battlestar Galactica. Starbuck is such the hottie.”

“Oh my God, she is,” I said, “I made the mistake of seeing her in that horror movie ‘Halloween’ – big disappointment. They made her into such a wuss. She’s not a wuss.”

“Yes, she is something else,” she said, “She’s got that Linda Hamilton look from ‘T2’ down, without a hint of bitch.”

“Amen,” I said.

We finished our dinner rating the super-chicks and I had time of my life.

<hr>

The bill was larger than I had hoped, but I put down the same cash as her. We ended on a short talk about why LARPs bring out our inner drama queens and, Elory suggested she leave for her next appointment. I plotted a path to the door which involved hitting the least people with my tail as I led the way out.

The hostess had a mint tray and I popped a couple. “You know these things can go bad on you?” I said, “Not the jelly kind, but the little white strong ones?”

“No,” Elory said, “What do you mean by ‘bad’?”

“Simon’s ex gave me one which was bitter as hell, but Simon’s was fine.”

“How long had his ex had these mints?” she said.

“No idea, and that’s probably why,” I said.

“How else did it taste?” she said, “Was it minty at all?”

“Just chalky and dry. It took a while to rinse the taste out.”

She wrapped a scarf over her exposed chest. “Are you certain this wasn’t another of Leon’s tricks?”

I wasn’t. “I’m such a doofus,” I said, “Should I go to the hospital?”

“I don’t know. It sounds like medication though.”

“Hang on a minute,” I said and flipped open my phone. I asked Simon for Jacob’s number.

Jacob picked up immediately when I called him. “Yes?” he said without asking who I was.

“Hi, it’s Cheryl,” I said, “Remember those mints you gave me? How I got sick on one? I think Leon mixed his pills in there to mess with you.”

“Oh,” he said. I heard him rush with the phone pressed against his body, and aluminum rattling. “I think you’re right. Some are all rough.”

“Just put them out with the rest of his pills.”

“Okay,” he said, “He already came for them, though. He said he’d be back for the rest of his stuff.”

“I thought we had put it all out.”

“We did. He doesn’t believe me.”

“You should tell Simon.”

“I bothered him enough. I called someone else. I’ll be fine.”

“Are you sure?”

“No. I’m expecting them to call me though. I have to keep the line free.”

“Okay. Wish you luck.”

Elory held the door for me when I hung up. “More trouble on the home front?” she said.

“Yeah,” I said, “I don’t know if it’ll ever end.”

I hugged her goodbye and we split up. I made the long walk past Trisha’s apartment to train station. At the junction of Downtown Crossing, I almost took the Red Line outbound to Quincy.

Categories: Book 1 - How Cheryl Got Her Tail, Chapter 5 - Perelandria Regained.

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