Lily knew it was Anton at the door by his knock. Setting aside her cookie and book, she quickly made her way to the door before he laid another set of quick, sharp knuckle raps on it. Anton greeted her with the disarmingly open smile he reserved for close friends as Lily opened the door and waved him inside.
“Hey, Lily.” Standing on the entrance rug, Anton glanced around the bookroom looking for Sarge. “Sorry, running late. Sarge already head up Percy Two’s way?” He stared at Lily in surprise when she shook her head, then held a finger to her lips signaling for quiet. She pointed at his boots and gestured towards the kitchen. Anton whispered, “Everything okay here, Lily?” After she nodded and gave a tired small smile in reply, Anton complied with her request to remove his boots and followed her into the kitchen. There he took in the still three-quarters full pot of coffee on the stove, the teapot covered with the warming cover, pots and pans at the ready waiting on the stove, Lily’s near empty cup of coffee, a large book of forest photographs open at her place, the clean plate and empty cup at the other side of the table and the platter of coconut cookies in the center.
Anton eyed the familiar looking and smelling coconut cookies with extreme curiosity as he sat down in the chair between the used and unused table settings. Lily poured him a cup of coffee in silence and pushed the platter of cookies towards him before retaking her seat. Anton hesitated, glanced over his shoulder at the doorway to the bookroom and the entrance door at the far end of it. Reassuring himself that he had indeed seen Sarge’s heavy work-boots on the mat, he gave Lily a careful looking over.
Her voice soft and low, Lily pushed the cookies closer to him. “Go on, eat as many as you can. We both know you want to, Anton.”
Matching her quiet tone, Anton said, “Ahha, yeah, about these cookies,” he gestured at the platter, “they be what I think they be?”
“Depends on what you think they ‘be.” Lily sipped her coffee and popped the remaining portion of a half eaten cookie into her mouth. “Only way you’ll know for sure is if you eat one.”
Anton took one and ate it whole. Keeping his eyes on Lily, he washed it down with the coffee. “Yeah, they be what I think they be. How’d you get a whole load of them?”
Lily opened the recipe box and flicked her fingertips at the piece of paper stuck in the front ready for use in the immediate future. “Made them, that’s how.” She grinned when he stared at the recipe in disbelief.
“Ahh ha, Anton getting a picture book story right quick.” Anton took another cookie and sniffed it. “Hmm, yeah,” He looked over his shoulder again in the direction of Sarge’s boots on mat and then at Lily’s not entirely well rested face and form. “Lily looking like she need few more zs. Truth be, lot more than a few, my friend.” He ate the cookie while waiting for a reply. When Lily shrugged and gave her coffee cup her full attention instead of responding, he reached out and gently touched her shoulder to get her to make eye contact. “Not lookin’ like Sarge made tracks for a bus.” He nodded at the stove. “Not lookin’ like you woke up mad either.” He paused to give her a chance to speak, when she didn’t he continued voicing his thoughts. He eyed the cookies again without any intention of taking another one. He waved his fingers at the platter. “Those little Ling sweets set some other sort of sweet thing in motion, Lily? That why you lookin’ like it wouldn’t hurt you none for some major z hibernating? Hmm? You and Sarge finally sort out a thing or two in a certain personal area you been keeping damn quiet about?”
Lily leaned back in her chair and returned Anton’s direct gaze. “Yes, we sorted out some things. Took us most of the night to do it, but we managed to get it done right. I woke up at my usual time. Sarge, he’s still in deep sleep mode. He won’t get to Percy Two’s place for doing that electrical work until this afternoon. Sorry if that messes with the repair crew schedule, but I’m not waking him up and I’m not letting you or anyone else wake him up either. He’s not getting up until he’s had all the sleep he needs. He’ll wake up when he’s good and ready. You and the rest of the repair crew will just have to deal with that fact today, and every day hereafter. Do you read me, Anton?”
“I read you, Lily. Anton get it, Big Man been puttin’ in a hell of a lot of time and hard labor. Man needs a time out. That’s cool. No problem. Crew major respect all he do.”
Lily shook her head. “Sarge doesn’t need just a time-out, Anton. If he’s going to continue fixing things here in the Flats he needs to ease up some. It’s not that he doesn’t want to do things, don’t take it that way. He does. He likes fixing things for people. You know he does. Problem is that he’s been using all this repair work to keep his mind too busy to deal properly with a few private things that require his attention. Those things do not include me. Oh I see you’re ready to jump on that statement of fact. Let me save you some breath. What that means is that I am not on the list of things he needs to deal with and get past. As far as he and I are concerned, we’re going to take our time and do things our own way and take it from there. I don’t want to hear another word about what we ought to be doing or not doing according to what people usually do in your culture regarding their personal relationships.”
Anton made a zipper motion across his lips. “Should I share this intel with Esther?”
“No, I’ll make it clear to her myself. I know she means well. That’s not an issue. It’s just,” . . .. Lily stopped talking and stared out the kitchen window while considering her words. Knowing Anton knew her well enough that he wouldn’t take it as an evasive tactic she took her time. When she made eye contact again with the man patiently waiting and drinking his coffee, she sighed. “Esther thinks she knows how I should handle things with Sarge. I know what she thinks because she’s had no problem telling me. But Anton, you know from listening to your bones that sometimes what seems like the right thing to do based on logic is anything but right.”
“You saying you’re going all the way with your home people vibes regarding Big Man. Anton reading Lily right?”
Lily nodded. “Yes, Anton, I am. As Sarge put it last night, he laid a lot of cards out on the table because he didn’t want me to get blindsided by some things in his private life. Or what he thought was his private life. The more I think about what he told me, I’m not so sure it’s been very private at all. I know he’s talked about some of it with you. I don’t know what your bones have been saying. But mine have been in a bit of a tizzy, as Priest used to say, about those things and something he’s not seeing yet. Some thing Sarge doesn’t know anything about. My vibes can’t make sense of it right now. Whatever that is, I do not intend to leave him to deal with it alone no matter how things turn out between us as a couple.”
“As a couple?” Anton set down the cup he’d been holding with both hands. “You both reading the same ink on that page, Lily? You and Sarge got that couple business all clear? You know why I’m putting the question back to you.”
“Yes.” Lily lifted her chin. “We agreed to continue living together between here and his place in the freight district.” Seeing Anton’s eyes open wide with stunned surprise, she pushed on. “I told Sarge straight up that I don’t want him to leave and he told me straight up that he doesn’t want to leave. We get along with each other. Which is more than a lot of people you and I both know can say about their private relationships. Sarge and I have decided to take a shot at being a couple on our own terms. I’m saying that even after he laid a lot of his cards on the table and I put down some of my own. I didn’t put all down of mine at the same time because I didn’t want to get us off track about what was actually significant to the matters at hand. Some things can wait. At least until we’ve both had some more sleep. We’re both clear about each other’s past relationship problems and that’s what matters right now.”
Attempting to appear nonchalant about Lily’s matter-of- fact tone regarding her relationship problems, keeping in mind what he knew about Sarge’s problems, Anton slouched down in his chair and stretched out his legs. “Pardon me for asking, but did you or did you not lay down your card concerning what you did to Mark when you caught him on the stairs messing with Julianna?”
“I mentioned it. I didn’t go into all the details, but the gist of it got across.”
“The gist of it? Sarge knows it was you, not Ricardo, who broke the front door with Mark’s head, right?”
Lily scratched the side of her neck and frowned. “I think so. Well, maybe that detail needs to be clarified a little. What’s your point, Anton?”
Anton shrugged. “Nothing. Just making sure Big Man knows how you can get when you’re riled up. That’s all. Don’t want him getting blindsided by a violin case in the gut if some drunk groupie backs him up against a wall in a stairwell outside a bar where’s he’s taking a break from from work, like John was at a music gig.”
Lily glared at him through eyes narrowed to sharp slits and found the energy to richly infuse her reply with sarcasism. “Oh no, we wouldn’t want that to happen to John or anyone else ever again. Not even if that drunk groupie happens to be his not so ex ex-live in girlfriend and his pants are down around his ankles.”
“Touche as they say. You clinched that there with the pants detail. I don’t recall hearing that before.”
Lily pushed her hair behind her ears then mimicked Anton’s mocking gossipy tone. “Did you hear the detail about him being stoned big time as they say? Hmm? John tends to leave out that piece of serious drug relapse intel when entertaining people with the story of Lily sending him to emergency room hospital hell with a violin case.”
“Anton caught some details about that violin case beating something besides the usual shit out of John. That something covered not only his hospital tab, but bought some serious don’t ask, don’t tell from the right folks. But hey, who listens to idle chatter from hospital orderlies pissed off about the drug trade in their neighborhood and in their hospital, right?”
“I definitely clarified all the details regarding that problem relationship, Anton.”
“Including details about John’s not-so-ex ex-live-in girlfriend? That be good fishin’ bait for some intel about new to Lily ex-live-in Sarge girlfriends, hmm.” Anton took another cookie and passed it from hand to hand while maintaining eye contact with Lily.
“There aren’t any ex live-in Sarge girlfriends or any other sort of ex-girlfriend to be concerned about,” said Lily.
Anton gave a faint hearted guffaw. “Hmm. I can’t see Sarge laying down some significant cards while making a pitch for bona fide serious couple rank without some card dealing with some ex girlfriends in some sense of the term. I can’t see this man doing that, Lily. My bones can’t see him trying to slide this card under a seat cushion. So let’s have reality fact check here regarding your understanding of this particular ex-girlfriends card.”
“Yes, Anton, I am aware that Sarge has had sexual relations with a lot of women. I’m sure you’re aware that it takes more than a few rounds of sex to have a real relationship with someone. As far as real relationships go, in any sense of the meaning of that term, Sarge hasn’t had one that results in any variation of love-sick, angry ex-girlfriends doling out blow jobs in alleys behind bars to get a guy’s attention. There will be no such pitiful bitch appearing on Rosa’s porch at two in the morning wailing for Sarge to come out and fuck her blind in the street. Even if there was, Sarge is not the kind of man to give her exactly what she wants right there in the street, entertaining the gang guys going about their business as usual at two am. Yes, Anton, I knew what John did. I didn’t have to go out there and watch. I could smell it on him when he came back inside after sending her on her merry way as he put it.”
Lily was pleased with the taken aback expression on her friend’s face due to his learning of her awareness of an instance of John’s behavior which Anton had personally found especially offensive and which he’d made an intense effort to keep talk about from her ears. She mirrored his earlier action of taking a cookie while keeping eye contact. “That’s the kind of reality fact you wanted me to check, right?”
“You reality check that John fact dead on.” He took a breath. “Per current affairs, you care to clarify how you read Sarge in the other women line-up?”
Lily smirked then rubbed her tired eyes. “Do I care to? You’re being funny, Anton. To clarify my read further, well, I certainly have not had sex with as many men as he has had with women. But I bet I could catch up damn fast if I put up red lights on the porch instead of blue and put the word out that I’m open for business. Hmm. Do you think doing that would increase or decrease the odds of Sarge and I working out being a couple for the long haul?”
For only a very brief moment, did Anton consider raising the topic of the little grey book’s contents. “You got to be messing with Anton with that scenario. Such shit do no one any good.”
She laughed softly at his indignation and playfully kicked at his chair. “Relax, Anton. You know I wasn’t serious about that red light action play.”
“True. But I don’t like you even thinking up crazy shit like that, Lily. Gets my mind rolling along that maybe you done too much time in the Flats.” Anton paused while reviewing everything Lily had said so far. “There not much people action in the freight district where Sarge’s place be. When a man been living alone a long time, never know what that space that be like until you in it. Considering how Sarge deal with all things need fixing here, I bet money everything essential in good working order. That be a lot right there.” He looked around the kitchen and glanced into the bookroom. “Odds against it all comfy and cozy like your pad. But Anton thinking as long as Big Man’s place safe and solid, maybe Lily doing some time there be a good thing. Focus on couple action your way. No other people drama action distractions. No input there you don’t want. Peace and quiet be a big plus if you depending on your home people vibes to try to get couple two-way street working right for the long haul.”
“I think that’s a good idea, Anton. All the input from all quarters definitely has not helped me much with my other couple efforts.” Lily bit her bottom lip and briefly laid a hand on Anton’s. “But you always read the guys creed right for me, though. That definitely has helped me understand a lot of what went wrong. What kind of shit do you think will get tossed my way when word gets around that Big Man is not making a permanent exit from Lily’s life as soon as he can easily catch a bus or cab out of the Flats?”
“Shit not worth taking the time to state you ignoring. Lot of folks been in-house too long with snow lockdown. Lot of head spaces packed tight with crazy notions. No telling what might get said by whom. All you need pay mind to be your home people vibes and what you know direct be true. Screw all the gossip drama queens’ bullshit flowing. They get all lathered up, that their issue. Not yours.” Anton checked the bookroom again. “You sure Big Man is not going to wake up any time soon? I don’t want him hear us talk like this and get any wrong ideas that require the rest of the day and night clearing up.”
“I’m sure. Sarge won’t be up for hours unless the pipes start singing or the kids start jumping on the floor above the bed and wake him up. He’s down for about another three.”
“How you know that? You didn’t slip him something to send him to la la land, did you? Tell me you didn’t do that and mean it, Lily.” Anton put his hands together as if praying. “Please.”
“I didn’t do that. I mean it, Anton. You know I wouldn’t do something like that. You’ve been dealing with way too many crazy people doing crazy things lately. I know because I’ve been paying attention to how Sarge sleeps ever since his first night here. It scared me the first time he slept so much longer than I expected. I couldn’t hardly tell if he was actually breathing or not. I kept checking on him. Then I got in the habit of checking on him whenever he sleeps longer than I do. That’s how I figured out about how long he spends in each stage.” She pointed at the coffee pot. Anton stood up and refilled her cup as she continued speaking. “We went to bed a little after four this morning. I can’t help but wake up by eight am even though I need a few more hours sleep. I’ll catch them later. You’re the same way. But Sarge, he doesn’t have a regular internal alarm clock like you and I do. If he does, it’s not working. He’s got to work his way down to hit that deep sleep cycle and hang there for a few hours before he even starts working his way to the waking surface. It’s just a little after nine now, so he’s still in deep sleep mode, which I confirmed a few minutes before you showed up. I can tell what stage he’s in by his breathing and heart-beat. If he gets to sleep and wake up all on his own, he’s ready for anything all day long and most of the night too. If he doesn’t, then he’ll push through being still tired and he’ll do everything that needs doing. But he’s out of sorts physically and fairly miserable even though he doesn’t whine or complain about it like some people we could name but won’t. ”
Listening carefully not just to Lily’s words, but also to her tone and paying attention to her body language, Anton decided to share absolutely none of this intel with Esther. Everything he was hearing and observing right now told him there’d been a whole lot more going on with Lily in regard to Sarge than Esther, Rosa, himself, possibly even Sarge, had a clue about. It fairly boggled his mind that she’d been monitoring the man’s sleep as carefully she was telling him she had. “Ahhha, and, um, have you shared all this sleep cycle intel with Sarge? Is he aware of how very aware you are of his sleep needs and habits?”
Lily took in the questions and frowned. “Sarge knows I check on him. I told him when I first started. It hadn’t occurred to me to discuss the rest in detail with him. After all, he can’t check on himself, can he? It just seemed useful to me to figure out so I know he is okay even when it seems like he’s barely breathing at all. I’m not joking, Anton. He’s so still and quiet when he sleeps it’s like he’s in a coma. He hardly moves. If I fall asleep after he does and wake up before him, I swear he’s in the exact same position as he was when I fell asleep. I’m not sure that’s normal. Do you think it would help anything if I told him what I’ve noticed?”
“Honest, I have no idea about that at all, Lily. Doc Tran might have a clue, but Anton definitely has nothing in his thought box about that sleep action. That something vary from one body to another. Might mean something, might mean nothing except that when Sarge down for the z count, he down hard.”
Lily relaxed and pulled her feet up onto the seat of her chair. Resting her chin on her knees she looked at the cookies then at Anton. “You really think I ought to tell him how I, um, pounded Mark’s head into the front door?”
Anton nodded. “I do. Main thing be Big Man knows exactly why. Plus, it don’t hurt none him knowing you can, and will, do a lot more than defend yourself in case a situation ever arises.”
“A situation? Very funny, Anton. Do you seriously think Sarge would create a situation which would provoke me to do some pounding on him? Hmm? Be honest, do you really think he deliberately would?”
Anton shook his head. “Truth be, Anton seriously doubt Big Man ever give Lily a reason to serve him some hurt.” He waited while Lily considered his reply. “Could be other situations arise though. Man never know when some time he get caught off his game or have to step it up real quick. That happen, help a mind knowing . . ,” Anton picked and discarded several phrasings before continuing with, “knowing he got reliable support standing right there with him. Back to back, shoulder to shoulder support that won’t cut and run. That mean a lot to any man. Anton think it probably mean a damn lot more to Sarge.”
Lily contemplated this in regard to some of the things Sarge had shared with her. “I think you’re right.” She nodded thoughtfully at her friend. “Okay, I’ll clarify and elaborate on the Mark situation. Just so, like you said, so Sarge knows that about me. And, in case, not that I think he ever would give me a reason, because I don’t think that at all, but just in case something ever comes up, he’ll know better than to try to bullshit me about it. Yeah, that’s like preventive medicine, right?”
“Could be. But like said before, don’t think Sarge ever give Lily just cause for punishment. Don’t think he got that streak in him, Lily. Not saying that cause he and me got decent rapport flowing. I mean it.”
“I know you do, Anton. I don’t think Sarge has it in him either.” She glanced out the window for a moment then look back at Anton. “I trust him. My vibes trust him. He’s a good man.”
“You read that right. No argument. Fact be, it sound damn good to hear you talk positive like that about him. ”
Lily sighed. “Anton, does it sound like I’m in love with him?”
“Sounding like you definitely in something with him for sure, Lily. Know you got some different notions about the whole love scene, therefore Anton hesitant to confirm or deny what’s what. But you said you don’t want Sarge to make an exit and you were straight up with him about that. Putting just that card on the table, well, I think you sure know why you don’t want him to leave. No surprise to Anton that Sarge don’t want to leave. Man been hoping you give him a chance all along.”
“Isn’t that what I’ve been doing? Otherwise I’d have sent him to sleep in the generator room or over to your place to get him out of my way from the start.”
Anton stared at Lily then shook his head to clear his mind and leaned towards her. “Wait. Hold on. Rewind things for Anton. Are you saying you been seriously checking this man out from the start for the whole time he’s been here? This ain’t been just about him getting stranded and you being nice and hospitality polite about him caught in snow lockdown in the Flats?”
“It’s not like I knew he’d get stranded here when I invited him in, but, I’d already decided to give Sarge a real chance even before he threw me in the taxi. Considering how he behaved after that, I guess you could say I was giving him a serious chance from then on. I gave him a little chance when he followed me up the street to ask for a date because of the book he was reading in the breakfast bar and how my vibes were humming.”
“Ahhhha. So Lily been givin’ Sarge chances all along then?” Anton rubbed his right temple with his fingertips while considering this new intel from his friend whom this conversation seemed to be wearing down physically.
“Mmm. You read that right, Anton.” Lily blinked sleepily at him.
Anton glanced at his wristwatch, at the book of nature photographs Lily had been looking through before his arrival then at the way she was owning her chair with her whole body. “Lily looking mighty tired right now. There any particular reason you ain’t catching more zs? You stayin’ up to check on Sarge’s breathing or you staying awake to keep from taking things to the next level with him? Anton wondering why damned tired Lily ain’t in her own bed sleeping.”
Lily laughed softly. “That’s funny, Anton. The way Sarge sleeps, there’s no way to take things to another level. Don’t you get it? He’s way deep under the down for the count. But you’re right that I am tired. I guess you could say I answered my alarm clock and woke up just long enough to be able to go back to sleep. That’s what I’m going to do.” She unfolded herself from her chair, stood up and stretched her arms overhead. “I may as well catch zs now while Sarge is heating up the bed instead of when he’s not.” She waved at the cookies, the coffeepot and the fridge. “Help yourself. You’re a cook. Make yourself something to eat if you’re hungry. You don’t need me for that.” She put a hand on his shoulder and gave him a gentle squeeze before walking past him and out of the kitchen on slightly unsteady feet.
Leaving Anton in the kitchen, Lily made her way back to her bedroom feeling sleep settling into her muscles with just the thought of the warm bed. She’d forgotten all about Anton by the time she walked along the edge of the bed, tugged lightly on Sarge’s toes as she moved past them, she knew full well it wouldn’t wake him, pulled off her thermals and got under the down quilt where the cotton flannel sheets were as warm as she’d expected. Snuggling under the quilt she lay on her side looking at Sarge’s profile in the faint dim light pushing through the small curtained bedroom window. Laying on his back with his head slightly tilted in her direction, the quilt covering him hid the rise and fall of his chest as he slept. She amused herself by reaching over and lightly tugging a lock of hair away from his face and watching it fairly spring right back into place when she released it from her fingers. She giggled a little and repeated the action with another unruly wave. “Your hair behaves like one of those metal ring toys, Funny Man.” She sniffed the air warmed by his body heat and scented with several sachets in the pillow cases and under the quilt. “Hmmm, smells like a warm day in the woods. Night, Sarge.” Remembering a summer day spent gathering plants in a forest with her mother and Gran, Lily caught up to Sarge in her own deep sleep cycle within moments of closing her eyes.
Sarge awoke several hours later just as Lily had told Anton he would. Having no idea of the time and not caring and enjoying not caring about the time, he started to stretch out his arms as usual and discovered Lily sound asleep next to him. Her long black hair spilling out from under the quilt drawn up over her ears hid everything but her eyebrows from view. A random clanking from the radiator caused him to cringe at the harsh sound as he turned onto his side to face Lily’s sleeping figure. Watching her sleep, he laid his fingertips on the nearest edge of a black swirl of her sleek hair and whispered, “Hey, Lily there are coconut cookies waiting for breakfast.” When she didn’t stir, he smiled and pulled the quilt edge up under his eyes. He took a deep breath of the warm air trapped underneath the down. “Smells like trees under here, Lily. Yeah, it does. Let’s go for a walk in the woods.” Closing his eyes, he lay quietly imagining wandering with Lily among the tall trees he’d seen in one of her books.
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