Inhaling the earthy scents in the shower, Sarge watched the water play over his fight scarred hands. He thought about how he and Lily might create a warmer, more inviting living space on the second floor of Kozy’s warehouse, a space in which Lily would feel as welcome and comfortable in as he felt here in her apartment, a space comfortable enough to study in when it suited her, a space where she would feel comfortable enough to consider spending the night. Sarge shook his head under the shower with his last thought then stepped back and pushed his hair off his face. Consider? Just consider spending the night? Who am I kidding? I don’t want her to just consider it. I want her there, in my space, in my bed all night like I’ve been in hers for weeks now. Wait, that’s not quite being totally up front with yourself, is it, Sarge? He felt his hands tremble and held them palm open to the hot water streaming from the shower head. Yeah, I don’t want her in my bed like I’ve been in hers all this time, like I think it’s best keeping things like they have been until . . .. Until what, Sarge? Her name isn’t in that damn grey book or any other book like it. You know that. You know you wouldn’t be here right now if she hadn’t invited you in of her own accord. No one told her to invite you. No one paid her to do that or anything else since. Yeah, you know that if she wanted to, she’d kick you out to sleep with the generator, or over at Anton’s in one of the “sun rise” rooms they keep ready for people when their domestic or other problems get out of hand.
He swished the water in the tub, for which he’d closed the drain in order to save the hot water for soaking his feet for a time after showering. Dinner and dancing while making the coconut cookies had taken the edge off the chill that had set in from wading through the cold water in the basement of the building the Lings lived in. Even Little George’s insulated rubber boots hadn’t quite stood up against the extended amount of time he’d spent setting things to rights water-wise in the cold flooded basement. He turned off the shower and let the tub fill with enough hot water to make his feet happier. Flexing his toes, he sat on the edge of the tub with his chin in one hand. Enjoying the scented steamy warm air, he resumed his conversation with himself. Yeah, I should have done this tub action for the feet right away. What is it with me and water lately? Ever since that first bath Lily made me take, I feel like I could live in a tub. Well, something a lot bigger than a tub. At least a lake or river. An ocean would be best. Oh Jeez, here I go on this bend again. It’s probably just that this bath thing is new and very cool. Especially with Lily’s home people scents added in. I can’t believe I never thought to try one on my own even after Kozy found that huge tub for the second floor. Lack of imagination, that’s what that lack is about, Sarge. Lack of imagination, that’s what does people in all the time. Is that my problem with Lily? Lack of imagination? Or just some old fear of imagining what sort of serious, meaningful relationship I want with a woman and screwing it up when it comes along? Wait, I’m not talking just any woman in general anymore. I’m talking about this one woman in particular. I’m talking about Lily.
Sarge turned the water back on and let the tub fill further while he eased himself down into the soothing heat. Yeah, this is the ticket. Relax, take my time. Think things out. There’s no hurry. It’s started snowing again. Lily is having some time to herself out there and I’m having some time to myself in here. It’s all good. We both know having this sort of time alone by ourselves works for us. Well, except for the fact that she has access to those coconut cookies and I don’t unless I make wet tracks…. Cut it out, Sarge. Get back to this ‘until what’ question and answer it already. Yeah, so what concerns are on this table? Hmm, concern number one: while I have no legit reason to think of Lily being the sort of woman who wants to screw around with me in bed just for the sake of screwing, well, let’s face it, that’s a concern considering what I’m damn sure has been the case with all the women I’ve gone to bed with so far. It’s a mind fuck I’ve apparently not quite gotten past yet. That ball is entirely in my court and I’ve got to deal with it. How do I get to where I can trust my own instincts and thinking that this is not Lily’s agenda?
He slid down until his head was entirely under the hot water then surfaced gradually with a relieved gasp. That’s it, get some more blood moving in the feet and the head feels better too. Answer to question, I’m not quite sure yet. Sarge, you know it’s not a good thing when you don’t trust yourself. How are you going to trust her, if you don’t trust you? Hold on, wait, but I do trust Lily. Why? How do you know that you trust her? Sarge looked at the bathroom door. Why? Well, let’s see what matters in regard to concern number one? Okay, except for the bath to deal with the dead squirrel shit smell, she’s never come in here while I’m showering or taking a bath, and she’s never come in and tried to start playing sex games. She respects our spaces in the bed. She keeps to her side and I keep to mine. Old Reliable Jack is in residence on the floor on her side. I don’t need something like Jack to make a point about wanting to be left alone while sleeping. Neither of us goofs around in there. I don’t want her to get the wrong idea and she hasn’t said or done a damn thing to give me the wrong idea. It’s like we both know it’s too easy to mess things up by saying or doing the wrong things in that context, so we’re extra mindful of being polite. I know I am anyway.
Damn, it’s too easy to hurt or get seriously hurt in this scenario. Well, there you have it, Sarge. You’re afraid of getting hurt again. If this doesn’t work you’re going to be hurt, and not like before. Even if it does work, you still are opening yourself up for some kind of hurt along the way. You know from talking things out with Anton that you already care enough about Lily to not want to hurt her, if you can possibly avoid it. Are you having some self-worth issues because of the names in that damn grey book? Maybe a few. But I’ve learned a lot in the last year or so by staying away from the ladies at the folks’ place. One major thing I’ve learned is that it’s not in the normal scheme of things for a guy to get set up with as many women as I’ve been by my family. That bullshit is definitely affecting me now. I can feel it. I can’t put words to it yet, but I feel it messing around in the back of my mind. I am well aware that Lily is not a set up. I know that inside and out. I’m concerned about that personal history I bring to this relationship. There’s no way around it. I’ve got to lay all the cards on the table as far I understand them for Lily. I wouldn’t want to be blindsided by someone with my history, so I’m not about to do that to her. I have no idea how she’ll react to any of it. I’m pretty sure that scares me. I understand what Anton says about her capacity to deal with dark shit, but still, in some very personal ways I’m a guy with a lot of trash trailing after him.
I also know I’ve got a lot to offer Lily that has nothing to do with sex. I figured that out by taking small chances with the ladies from the libraries and bookstores. I could see they weren’t right for me for a serious relationship and I wasn’t right for any of them. But it was also clear to me that all of them and me are right for someone. We all bring different things to a relationship table. Frankly, I wouldn’t mind getting some input from a couple of them, like maybe Diane and Elizabeth, regarding things with Lily. They’d be outside this context and see things differently than the people inside it. But right now that’s not happening. I’ve got me—and to an extent Anton to discuss things with. I’d call Kozy for a long chat if there was a phone somewhere with real privacy. But I haven’t seen one yet to ask about using for an hour or so. Yeah, a good long jawbreaker with Walter wouldn’t hurt one bit. Or maybe, what the hell, maybe I should just have a really long talk with Lily?
Sarge got out of the tub and put a towel to work drying his hair. I’m going to have to talk with her about my so-called past relationships at some point in time. Considering what we agreed upon today about living together, maybe sooner, as in now, is a lot better than later, even if I don’t yet have all the information I want about certain family matters. This way, if she decides to rethink things, no one else knows anything about it so she won’t be embarrassed or have to deal with questions she doesn’t want to answer. Yeah, thanks Diane for that tip about not embarrassing women with their friends by putting them on the hot seat concerning relationship issues unless you’re just itching to start a war.
He dressed while making a short list of the most important things he thought he needed to give Lily a heads up about. He knew he was on the right track when he finished buttoning his shirt, one of Little George’s loaned flannels, and realized his personal thermostat had retuned to normal. Feeling phsyically balanced again, he shook his head to get rid of any lingering water in his hair. He had previously noted his hair apparently found Lily’s home people plants agreeable in some way that when he left it to finish drying uncombed it appeared much neater than when washed without them. Even when he did comb it after a good washing with some of Lily’s herb mixtures, it looked like a nice neat tight mop rather than a ransacked squirrel haven as it had prior to Lily scent time. Though he admitted his take on this was totally biased because his nose was calling the shots in the home people land scents department. Lately his nose didn’t give a damn what his eyes had to say about anything. After pushing his hair away from his face, a futile gesture if there ever was one as it immediately went right back to where it had been, Sarge turned to open the door and felt a keen thrill of emotional electricity flit through him. It was much the same as the feeling that he’d experienced when he’d exited Big Bob’s and caught sight of Lily working her way up the street then set off after her. He liked the way that move had turned out, so hopefully this was an indication that this move, as strange as it felt to him in several ways because of the nature of what he felt he needed to talk about, also might turn out to be to his liking. There was no way to know except to follow through on his decision.
He opened the bathroom door and walked down the short hall to the bookroom. Hearing Lily speaking in two different voices Sarge wondered if Marianna or another child from upstairs had come for a visit and was being entertained with a story. This notion jumped right out the window as soon as he had sight of the back of the red velvet couch where Lily’s left foot was chasing her right across the top of the couch back. He stood listening to her switch from a falsetto to a something just below her normal voice speaking tone and realized there was a different voice for each foot which were being used in place of puppets for some adventure he couldn’t make heads or tails of because she wasn’t speaking in English. Recalling that he’d caught a glimpse of this same foot action when he’d returned after being doused with the garbage disposal refuse and that it had ceased as soon as she’d become of aware of his presence, Sarge kept quiet in order to satisfy his curiosity by watching her feet and listening to the tones of her dual voice action. Only when the storyline seemed to have played itself out and her feet rested on her heels moving slowly sideways in one direction and then in the opposite, did he announce himself by speaking.
“Hey Lily, do you have some time for seriously serious talk?”
“Considering the fact that I’ve been having a conversation with my feet, what do you think, Funny Man? Hmm?” Lily pushed herself up from the couch seat cushions just far enough to peer at him over the back of the red couch. “What’s on your mind, Sarge?”
He pointed at her feet as he came closer to the couch. “Well, first off, what’s that story with your feet about? I have to ask because your right foot really did a number on your left, but I have no idea why right foot beat the heck out of the left foot.”
Lily moved to sit cross-legged on the couch. “That’s not really what you want to talk about. You’re curious, but it’s not the headliner on your mind, Sarge.” She wiggled her toes. “Tell you what, I’ll go through the whole story in English for you, but only after we talk about whatever has you out of the bathroom after only half the time you usually spend in there. Deal?”
“You promise to tell the whole story after we talk, no matter what we talk about?”
“I promise. No matter what we talk about first, I will give you whole blow-by-blow from start to finish afterwards.” She made a few lines across her chest then shrugged. “What’s that called where people seal their promises with all this finger action in front of their chests? Whatever that’s called that’s what I just did.”
“Oh, you mean like ‘cross my heart and hope to die if I lie’. Yeah. Hm.” Sarge looked at her and smiled a little. “Okay, I guess I’ll just have to trust you to keep your word about the story.”
“I’m warning you that it’s probably not quite what you might be thinking it is. As in, it’s not some quaint little home people fable.”
Sarge sat on the warm radiator facing the couch. “Okay, so what kind of story is it then?”
“It’s a way I have of dealing with a few things that I have issues with. You know some safe, self-contained, acting out play.”
“Oh yeah? Does it work?”
“Enough so that I stop chasing the dog’s tail in my head.”
Sarge thought about her statement for a moment then nodded. “Then it works. I’m going to hold you to your promise.” He rubbed his bare feet on the rug and contemplated stretching out on the floor.
Lily waited for Sarge to speak his mind. She watched him move to lay on his back on the rugs where he liked to read stretched out along the radiators so he could look up at the sky through the windows without any obstructions. He was quiet for so long that she considered gently prompting him into speaking instead she heeded the soft hushing of her vibes and made herself comfortable by stretching out over the length of the couch. Realizing something just as important as their new agreement must be on his talk agenda, she listened carefully to his silence while he was searching for a good opening while the sky darkened outside the windows. Knowing he, like she, enjoyed the room at night without the lights on and the shades open as they were now, Lily shut off the lamp then lay back on the couch with her hands interlocked behind her head. Just after her eyes had fully adjusted to the change from lamp-light to moonlight he began quietly talking to her from the floor where he lay looking up at the night sky dotted with lightly falling snow.