Paper Dummy

Afghanistan.

Or maybe it’s Congo.

Or Rwanda.

Odd, how he can’t remember which, can’t remember exactly which one of so many nightmare holes that was.

The failing equipment is vivid in his mind. He can still remember the codes painted on the metal, the sparks coming out of personnel carriers for no reason. The artillery fail-safes have been turned off, the com self-destructed. It’s as if the whole unit has been programmed to answer to alien commands that override what they need. Last man standing, hell, he’s not even upright. Don’t bother with the trigger stuck tight under his thumb, he ran through the last clip on that last wave of unrecognizable bug mods, things nobody has ever seen before.

Test-run, his brain screamed. And you’re the paper dummy.

It’s when the hum of bees goes away, when everything gets quiet again, that the dreams go really bad. That’s when sounds flay the skin and agony screams in colors. Burning down his whole right side and he watches the intricate bones of his hand appear from the crackling flesh and char–

“Drin,” says the voice, firmly.

He gasps at the shock of cold water on his body. He shudders, and shakes wet hair out of his eyes, and finds himself staring wildly around at the wet bathroom wall.

He’s standing, naked, in the middle of his own apartment bathroom, dripping wet, shivering, and there’s water splashed all over the marble walls because Dance has taken the shower wand off its hook and aimed it at him, right there in the middle of the floor.

Dance is naked and wet too. He has one hand out, ready to catch Drin if he looks unstable on his feet. He looks up at Drin’s face, nods once, and puts the shower attachment back up. He has to stretch to do it, straining his arm upward. He turns back to Drin and rests both wet hands on Drin’s hips. “All right?” he says quietly.

Drin can feel himself breathing in deep, hard, whistling breaths, as if he’s been running. He rests his hand on Dance’s shoulder, not daring to hang on as much as he’d like to. How the hell Dance ever got him marched into the bathroom during an attack that bad, he’ll never know.

Nobody else has ever been able to get near Drin in that state. Right after he got out of the hospital, he nearly killed someone once, a cute curly-haired history scholar, a complete innocent, a civilian with no idea what he’d done in hugging Drin too soon. He came rolling up in bed with his hands on the poor man’s carotid arteries, about to punch in that fragile hyoid cartilage like a piece of paper.

It’s been years since he had dreams like that. Back when he had no business sleeping in a bed with normal people. Used to be, he didn’t dare join them in oblivion. He slips away, gets up, works on his computer, catches up on sleep later.

But Dance– he’s been with Dance every last day he can manage, as if there may never be another night to hold him, feeling him breathe in his sleep. And tonight, in that big cool lonely king-size bed, with that warmth curled up at his belly, he just… went to sleep too.

bw soldier sitting behind gun
Temporary Solution

It’s been so long. He hasn’t forgotten, oh no, that never goes away. Maybe he just… hoped it had. Why have the fucking dreams come out of their hole again? He has no business putting Dance at risk like that. None. Even if the man is amazing in the dojo, Dance still sleeps.

“I’m so sorry–” he gasps.

“Shhhh,” Dance says, and puts his hand up on Drin’s mouth. “Shhh. Breathe.”

“Are you– did I hurt you?” Drin says, and his voice sounds weird, thin, reedy.

“No, I am fine.”

He wipes water out of his eyes. He gasps. “How did you– how–”

Dance gives a crooked little smile. “Our Drin went for the gun under the pillow first.”

“I don’t keep one in the house–”

“No gun was there,” Dance’s eyes are calm, serious, not even surprised. “And I am waking up fast.”

Drin nods. He can’t get his breath.

Dance gives a crooked little smile. “We’re okay, as long as no gun is there.”

“You–” Drin gets it out. “You know–”

“You saw how I am,” Dance says. “Bad dreams, crawling under things, trying to get away in our sleep. We know. Telling you some time, you will believe it then. Oh, we know. Can I hug you now?”

“Yes, oh God, please,” Drin gasps, and wraps both arms around Dance’s warm body. Bends, buries his face in the sheets of damp black hair.

“You’re here,” Dance says. “It’s all right. You’re here now.” His arms are very strong. Very strong.

 

Beds for Bad Dreams

double exposure Bass by István Kovács
double exposure Bass by István Kovács

“Futons won’t work for Dance,” Emma says patiently, putting her seatbelt on. She’s been saying things like that through three stores now. “The bed frame needs to be higher up off the floor.”

Drin looks at her, and sits back in the leather driver’s seat. “What am I missing here?”

She sighs, and rumples her hair, and rests her chin in her hand. She looks out the window, not at him. “It’s a long story, and I don’t know all the bits. He won’t tell me. Can’t, most of it. The bits he does talk about… brrr. You have to have a bed high enough enough off the floor so he can crawl under it. No joke. He hides under it when he’s having bad dreams.”

Drin stares at her and feels icy prickles crawling down his back and across his shoulders. “I… didn’t know that.”

“You haven’t seen it happen yet?”

“I think… I think I saw it once, at the Metro building, up in that little room on the top floor.”

She nods. “Yeah. Hiding under the bench up there helps a little bit. Playing–practicing his music for hours–that helps the most.”

“But I haven’t seen it happen, and it’s been three weeks!”

She looks at him with the clear, honest gaze that never tells lies and never backs down… as deep as the ocean and just as full of shocking surprises. He’s beginning to think he’ll never learn all there is to know, where she’s concerned. She says, “Yes. He’s been a lot better since you started visiting the Metro–yes, really, that long ago. You make him feel happy. You know how he sings when he’s cooking for you.”

“But–” Drin says.

She smiles, a little grimly. “It only happened a couple of times when you were out of town, before you two started going out together. I sit with him, talk to him, I just do things where he can hear me. He never makes a fuss, no uproar. It’s just… the things he can tell you about those dreams–my God, Drin, they’re real doozies, I wouldn’t wish that stuff on my worst enemy. Drowning in goo and people with claws like crabs–he says the pincer bits are bone-white–they go chasing him down corridors with big rooms stacked full of green fiberglass bathtubs with people floating underwater in them– believe me, he can go on in horrible detail about the fittings and plumbing on those things, because he’s always hiding behind some of it to get away from the crab-people, and he can tell you about their antennae joints, and the way the people in lab coats insert bony parts into the poor living zombie people in the bathtubs, and how it stinks. It’s really convincing and really nasty and I never want to see the horror movie that must have set him off as a little kid.”

bug forearm tattoo painted by Follow the Wind on DOA
Bug Parts

Drin feels as if his eyes can’t stretch any wider open. “Maybe I should talk to him about it.”

“It sets him off if I try, but you may have better luck.”

He sits staring into the windshield, seeing flames. Bone-white shattered hollow parts scattered like crab shells. His own hand, burning black–

She looks at him more closely, leans in and touches his arm lightly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to shock you or share something that really isn’t mine to tell. You want to know the disturbing part?”

He blinks, and looks over at her.

She nods. “I must have seen parts of the same movie when I was a kid, or something. Before he ever told me anything, I was having dreams where I saw those same boxes–I swear, the same things, they look like Egyptian sarcophagi with extra pipes– only the bodies in them weren’t human any more, and they were all dead, and stinking.”

Drin looks at her under his brows, staring.

“What?” she says.

“That’s really interesting,” he says, distantly. Then he pulls himself together–and some of the bits are a real struggle to find–and he turns the key in the ignition, and blinks himself back to the real world of the street where he’s parked, and he says, “Let me talk to Dance about it first but– I think you and I may want to talk about the details some more, when we have time, somewhere it’s quiet and safe.” He catches the worried expression on her face, and he says, “I’ll be gentle about it, I swear. But I may need to have you near too, to help him calm down. Is that all right?”

“If you’re trying to help Dance get over that, you certainly may,” Emma says.

“And if he has a bad spell while I’m in town, but I’m not here, I’m at work or I’m over at my apartment, please call me to come right away,” Drin says. “Please. I need to see what’s happening.”

“Absolutely I will,” Emma says.

He can’t even say, I had no idea. He did know there was something. Of course he assumed, without asking. Of course he thought Dance might have nightmares about those bad stories told to his parents, about the pictures he saw. Who wouldn’t? But nothing like this. He blinks away vivid nightmare images. Bug parts scissoring outward…

“And you’re right, I’ll settle down and let your mad research skills to track down a nice sturdy bed that has a high enough frame,” Drin says.

She smiles then. “Oh, I know you just wanted to give him a really nice present for his birthday.”

He reaches over, and takes her hand, and kisses her wrist lightly. “Thank you. Yes, I did.”

She reaches up and pats his shoulder. “We’ll manage it, don’t you worry. And let’s not swap the bed out on him while he’s gone for the evening or something. Let’s put the parts of the new one in the house and let him get used to the idea of changing it first. He’ll do it for you, to save your back. If I tried to yank away his old bed just for a bigger mattress, he’d hang on with all four paws like grim death, and I’d never get it out of there.”

Drin smiles. “He’s so damn stubborn.”

“Oh, he has to be. I knew that when I offered him the room. But damn, there’s days…” she sighs, and slumps back into the car seat. He’s seen Dance do that same limp relaxation into the cradle of the seat, nights when he’s totally wiped out from practices. It feels oddly like a privilege, watching them drop the performance energy of their jobs and just … rest there. But then, he’s always had a weak spot for sleeping cats, too.

“Emma, you’re a big softy,” Drin says.

“Likewise,” she says, comfortably, and they travel in the companionable silence of acting as a team on a mutual concern.

Out of the Box

This one Dance recognized.

It was one of the better dreams, like the ones about laughing with his grandmother teacher over her piano keyboard, or when he was a baby, eating imaginary ice cream with his mother in a rusty-red back yard, with iron-tasting dirt all over his face.

===

Smells. Sharp, astringent, painful.

Ah, baby, you don’t remember your name? Oh, yes, baby, you had such a nice long nap. We just wake you a little while today.

Noises. So many noises. Muffled clangs and bangs and pipe gurglings. Some kind of cooling plant. Diagrams rotate, speculating how refrigeration equipment might be laid out, from the noise–
and then something blurs them away, eases them down into soft, sleepy fog.

Relax. Be easy. We got you, baby, you safe now. Don’t worry. We gonna get you home where you can do your music, and you don’t need to worry about any of that other stuff. None of it.

Touch like mother’s. Sleep.

Remember me, baby? Blink if you can hear me now. Good. You always be such a good boy. You ready to wake up from your nap?

Okay, we got help, you lay quiet and let us help move you. Blink if you hear me, baby.

Blink. Pain. Dazzle. Painful water dripped in his eyes.

Yeah, I know the lights are bright. Man, they look that bright to you? Oh, you so young, your eyes are good, better ‘n mine, sweet boy. You want we should put a cloth there, keep it dark a little while?

Noises. Voices that make no sense. Wheel noises. Clanking metal. Pipes.

You gonna be okay if Lacey puts a cloth there to help with the headache? Okay, if you’re sure.

Hands. Stranger’s hands. They smell of woman, of… something else… something that loves to be dry and dusty and baked warm in the sun. Something like him. Piney, resinous, something that clears the head.

Good, just lay still, lay really still, she’s helping me fix you up after your nap. I know, I know it’s cold, baby, we gonna get you warm. Lacey’s just getting you fixed up with some saline there, she’ll get you cleaned up, and then she’ll get the blankets on you.

Hot. Hot soft things close. Hot … hot blankets. Hot hot good. Shivering.

Well, maybe we shoulda chilled them blankets down a little more to match him, Lacey, but he’s good, he’s liking it. You hear me, sweet boy? Good blink, that’s good. You can call me teslamomma if you want. You give a yell like this in your head, you need anything, I hear you. Good shivering there. That’s good.

Let’s get you onto the bed, baby, just lay easy, Lacey can lift you, just relax. Relax, be easy. You still all stiff from sleeping so long. Oh, you cute as a bug, you sweet boy, you can cry if it hurts, really you can.

silhouette, child at piano, photo by Victor Bezrukov
photo by Victor Bezrukov

Don’t try makin’ noises yet, we want to give you a drink first, you just wait and get some of that water on your tongue. Just a little, good. That’s good, baby. Lacey and me, we’re so happy you feel better. You want to stay awake until the shivers stop, right? Good. That’s good. I’m gonna sing you some things, now, while you’re coming up through these shivers, warming up. We’re gonna sit here and enjoy some some music the way I heard it from some grand musicians. Some truly grand musicians, baby, you’re gonna like this. You can sing it too, in your head, if you want, don’t try using your voice yet. We gotta warm up those vocal cords first, then we hear your singing.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound…”

Ahh, baby, you’re so good. You all tired out now? You all warmed up and tired and you in a nice warm bed, you sleep now. Lacey will come feed you when you wake up. Yes, you can sleep now, baby. I got some other folks I need to help, folks who can’t speak out for themselves like you can now. You be good in Lacey’s hands, she always takes real good care of you. Sleep now.

Hugs. He wakes up to being hugged. Warm, soft, pillowy woman’s body, holding him with his head on Lacey’s shoulder, the smell of Lacey’s strong neck, her hands, stroking his hair. Humming.

“Oh when the Saints come marching in, I want to be in that number, oh when the Saints come marching in…”

 

child's finger on piano key
yes, that sound

“You awake, child?” she says. Lacey has a husky, rich voice full of laughter.

“Mmm,” he mumbles, and kisses her collarbone, and sighs.

“You getting hungry?”

“Mmm,” he agrees.

“How do you feel about chicken gumbo, child? You think you’d like to sit up and eat some of that?” The laughter is so warm. She hugs him tight. “You just make me so happy we got you home, child.”

He smiles back, blurrily, at all the golden-eyed heads that weave about looking at him. “Hi Lacey,” he says slowly, blinking at them, and then he giggles when they lick his face gently with their narrow tongues.

“Okay, tilt a little more. Good, now you’re up. You think you can stay sitting up?”

“Yes, Lacey,” he says, wobbling a little and blinking. His body feels strange, off-balance, as if he’s not quite the right shape. He keeps wanting to lean back, and expecting something to stiffen and brace up, but all that happens is that he starts tipping backward, and he has to tighten his belly muscles and pull forward in time. The little golden eyes watch him, moving around, and sometimes her hand pats his shoulder or his back, steadying him.

“Here’s some water first,” Lacey says. “Sip a little. Good. Now a spoon of gumbo, just a little liquid to it, just sip that, see if you like how I spiced it. Real mild, just for you.”

He likes it.

“Good. Three spoons, then we’ll wait and see if your tummy can hang onto it.”

“More?” he whispers hoarsely after they wait awhile, Lacey humming while he sits up with his hand gripping Lacey’s shirt.

“All right. One bite of solid food, a little chicken. Anh Ha Neul, you are a fine big boy, but still wobbly as a toddler, so don’t you go dancing around just yet.” Another hug, and she guides him into laying down on the big soft bed with her. “Okay, Ha Neul, lie here awhile and see if that gumbo settles for you. I know! Let’s see what you remember of that music teslamomma taught you.”

He falls asleep humming Bach’s Air on a G String. The melody, the composer’s history, the repertoire that provides a modern matrix for it, all of this just as teslamomma told him, is quite clear in his mind.

piano with text about best lyrics
The Best Lyrics

Dance stirs, bumps into the warm body at his back, and blinks awake. He thinks, how odd. The two women were speaking Korean, the whole time. Singing those gospel songs in Korean, even though the meter is a little odd for it. Why would a black woman like Lacey, who makes chicken gumbo and smells marvelously of dry, scaley, heat–he has no explanation for the wonderful solemn little faces with the gold eyes that also belong to her, too– but why would she be speaking Korean to him?

“Mmmm?” Drin murmurs, as if he’s been awake but he’s very relaxed, and he brushes his hand lightly along Dance’s leg, up his hip, onto his belly, up onto his chest, with his whole arm hugging Dance.

“Mmm,” Dance answers, stretching a little into the hug, arching his back. His butt pushes into Drin’s belly. Drin strokes up and down his body, brushing down along Dance’s thigh.

“You’re so cute when you’re sleepy,” Drin murmurs, hugs him, and kisses his ear. “Shh, I’m fine, get some rest.”

Dance rolls back onto his side, shifts his back closer into Drin’s belly. He pulls the warm, freckled arm closer around him, hugs it to his chest, and kisses Drin’s hand. Then he can sleep again.

Handing Off

woman with eyes closed, done in stippled ink
Keep Calm

“I’m on my way,” is all Drin says when she makes the call, and he shows up within twenty minutes. “Sweetheart, I came back,” he says, striding into the room. “Can Emma sit with us?”

Emma’s sure she can feel Dance moving around under the sagging springs, but she sits carefully and gently, the same as Drin does, and they just sit listening to Jacqueline Du Pre performing on the Davidoff cello, in a remastered cd playing on the portable player that Drin gave Dance. If anything could make Emma cry that evening, it would be listening to the woman with terminal MS playing in one of her last, great performances; but that night Dance needs them to be calm and rational, and she is. She sits quietly, and she’s grateful to the man sitting next to her on the bed. She puts out her hand, and Drin holds it in his.

After some time, she feels a dry, cold hand come out from under the bed and rest lightly on the top of her foot. Dance doesn’t grab her ankle, although he could. He never has.

It’s always a little startling, feeling how cold and frightened the touch is; normally Dance’s leathery, calloused hands are positively hot. She can tell when he reaches out and touches Drin, too; not so much a jolt or a jerk, as a little shift in Drin’s posture. That’s also how she knows when Dance has rested his head against Drin’s leg. Leaned into him. She’s pleased, and astonished, too. It’s been very little time, for Dance. The cd is still playing; in the early days, it might take Dance a couple of hours to emerge this far.

“You know, I don’t think I know any other women who’d have the courage to pull somebody through this the way you have,” Drin says at last, when the cd has ended, and it’s quiet.

“Nonsense,” Emma says stoutly. “All kinds of women do things that are harder every day. Your mother, or mine, or God bless her, Dance’s mother. Judging by their children, they had something to pass along.”

Drin chuckles. “You’re tough,” he concedes. Then he leans over a little, speaks toward the floor. “Do you want a pillow?”

“Yes please,” Dance says, very quietly. Whispering. As if he’s afraid of being overheard.

A bed pillow is offered, and disappears underneath. Just one rustling noise, and then it’s quiet.

“So would you rather we talked, or do you want to listen awhile to the neighborhood? Music?” Drin asks then.

“We feel silly,” Dance says.

“Ahh, but do you feel safe?” Drin says.

“When you’re here,” Dance says, which is about as naked a truth as Emma has ever heard from him.

Drin bends over a little, looking down at the hand touching his foot again, and the other hand touching Emma’s foot. “Thank you.” Then he takes off the loose fleecewear jacket he’s wearing, and balls it up, and holds it down toward the floor. “Here, wrap up, it must be cold on the boards. It’s gonna be cold outside tonight.”

The hands move, the jacket disappears, and there are little noises under the bed.

“Is that better?”

“Thank you, it is,” Dance whispers.

“I’m gonna get out of these jogging pants too, they’re probably a little big for you, but they’ll keep you warmer,” Drin says.

Under the jogging pants, Drin is wearing perfectly ordinary plaid flannel pajama pants. The jogging pants on top of it must have been getting pretty damn hot, and he must have done it deliberately, knowing that he might want to wrap up Dance in warm clothes.

“Oh, warm,” Dance says then, a tinier whisper yet.

“You want to go back to sleep under there? Shall we go away and let you–”

“No! No, don’t go,” Dance says, sharper and louder. “Please.”

“Okay, we’re right here, we just don’t want to keep you awake,” Drin says.

“This is keeping you awake,” Dance whispers.

“Well, we could lay down on the bed up here and take a nap, but then you wouldn’t see us,” Drin says.

Emma thinks about asking Dance to come out and get into his own blankets, where they can get him properly warmed up again, and resists the temptation to say anything.

“Emm,” Dance asks, and the hand comes out and rests lightly on the arch of her foot.

“Right here,” she says.

“Could you…stay here tonight? with us?” Dance asks.

cryptic items in dim light
Dreams of Sarcoboxes

“Love, I can certainly do that,” she says.

Drin looks at her, brows lifted, and he gives her hand a slight squeeze, nodding.

“You want us to move the blankets for you?” Emma says.

“Please,” Dance whispers.

“Are you still cold, love?” Emma asks.

“So cold,” Dance mutters. “Hurts.”

“I’ll get the heating pad going and pile the blankets on and we’ll both hug your stuffings out. If you’re still cold, then we’ll get you into a really hot shower.”

“That sounds pretty nice to me, too,” Drin says.

Then he’s laying flat on his back on the bed, blinking upward in surprise, and Dance has swarmed up into his arms, and he is shivering as if he’s coming out of frostbite.

Emma stands up, grabs a folded blanket, snaps it open, and drapes it over the two of them. Then she fetches more blankets, the heating pad, and a glass of very hot water–not even lingering long enough to make tea out of it–and she applies all of these remedies in short order. Then she takes the glass away, and crawls into the covers with them, in spite of the groaning bed springs that roll them all in a heap together. Dance struggles a bit, thrashing himself round, and hugs her too, just as he was hugging Drin. She pets his hair back from his face, smacks him lightly, and gives him a kiss on the cheek.

“There, love, easy on the ribs,” Emma says into the hot skin of his neck. He’s shivering, but his body isn’t cold at all, just his hands; he’s just scared all the blood supply away from his extremities. She can feel Drin rubbing Dance’s back and side and leg gently, murmuring nonsense into Dance’s ear. It takes perhaps fifteen minutes for the shivering to ease, and then Dance is just laying there limply, not hanging on tightly at all; and in another five or ten minutes he’s fallen asleep in an awkward position.

“You all right, love?” Emma asks quietly.

“I’m good for awhile,” Drin says. “I’ll have to move his head off my arm in awhile, but I think he’ll be okay by then.”

“Ahh, good,” Emma says.

“You’re a peach,” Drin says.

“Likewise,” Emma says, with deep, tired satisfaction. Handing Dance’s nightmares over was the last, difficult hurdle that she’d been dreading. Well, aside from the tantrums about finally, actually moving the bed.

Unlikely Triggers

Emma points at the computer monitor. “See, this queen-sized one has an iron frame, the legs are about two and a half feet long–”

“No, no,” Dance says, “we don’t need–”

“Yes you do need another bed,” Emma says. “Drin needs it for his back. Stop making selfish excuses. Don’t make those big sad deer-eyes at me.”

“But he never said–he never told us– he never complains– did he ever say he was in pain?”

Emma shakes her head. “Never. And he probably won’t. But I can see it. His lower spine posture in the mornings is much stiffer after he’s stayed here. Nothing to do with sex, either.”

The silence is very loud.

Annoyed, she says, “Oh come on, it’s a small house, and I’m not deaf, so there’s no point pretending I don’t know about it. I just try not to intrude on anybody’s privacy. Truth is, I don’t mind one bit. I’m really glad you two are happy and having fun. Don’t worry about it.”

“How come he never said?”

“Because he doesn’t want to make you unhappy with your things. But I do. I think that bed is a menace and you need to adopt a spanking brand new one and let Drin give you something nice. I think it’d make him happy. He likes finding things to make things a little better for you.”

Dance flops down in a chair and then suddenly he just puts his face down in his hands and he’s crying.

“What on earth?” Emma says, startled. She reaches out for him. “What set you off like that?”

“Nobody– nobody else ever– except you–” Dance has his arms over his face. “We didn’t know it hurt Drin’s back, we don’t want to make him hurt all the time–”

Emma looks at him. If Dance was a woman, she’d swear he was having a rough hormonal day. Hell, maybe he is having a rough hormone day–his pride is kicking him all to pieces. That damn Maestro Richard Young has been hacking at him again, she’s sure of it. Oh, she knows there’s never going to be a good time to tackle getting rid of that poor old bed. Of course he’s frightened of losing that ratty old second-hand bed. It’s been here as long as he has. She found it for him the day after he arrived, with Amalia’s help to move his few bags out of her spare room. Emma wraps both arms around him. “Dance, we’re going to put the new parts in here and let you think about it. We can always send them back.”

That just makes him cry harder. “We wanted to get him a real bed here, but we can’t–”

“You can’t bloody afford it, and we all know it, and Drin wants to give it to you.”

“We can’t–I can’t take more things from him, it’s not right to take his money from him like that, asking for things all the time– we are not a rent boy!”

Emma says crisply, “Whoever thought you were? You play way too well for a rent boy, come on.”

Dance blinks at her. “What?”

“Now, Robert is a really high-class rent boy,” Emma says, tilting her head a little. She grabs Dance’s chin, swabs his face roughly with tissues as if he’s one of the tour kids lost in the library stacks, and gives him a one-armed hug. “It’ll be all right. Really it will. We’ll work on it and find you a bed you’ll like. A bed that’s tall off the floor.”

“Okay then,” Dance says, but he’s still anxious about it. “But we don’t– I haven’t told him– we haven’t told him why.”

“You haven’t told him about your dreams?” Emma says.

“No.”

“Why not?”

Dance takes more tissues from her hand, and wipes at his eyes. “Not wanting to– talk about bad things. Why waste Drin’s time on nasty things? And those are bad.”

“Yeah,” Emma says. “Do you think he can’t handle bad things?”

Dance shakes his head. “We just don’t– I don’t– we are not feeling very brave right now.”

Emma blinks at him, astonished. Then she says slowly, “Because of Young saying things.”

Dance nods. “It’s– it’s hard.”

“Yeah, it is,” Emma agrees.

“Making us very afraid, those– those crab things do.”

She nods.

doll tattoos by artist Follow the Wind on DOA
Surviving Mantis Bugs

“Miss Emma, we don’t want to hurt anybody because we– because I am so upset and frightened that we just–I just lose all sense and just– react,” Dance says.

She looks at him. “It’s getting that bad at work.”

He takes deep breaths. “No. But Young would like it to. And we won’t. I won’t let it.”

“Good for you,” Emma says. “Drin might know exactly what you’re talking about without you having to say much at all.”

Dance takes more deep breaths. “Yes. If anybody knows about bad dreams, he does.”

“Yeah, from what you said,” Emma says.

Then Dance looks at her. “You told him,” he says. “You told him about ours!”

Emma nods. “I said the bed needed to be high because you crawled under there when you had bad dreams sometimes.”

Dance gives a little shiver. “You are very brave.”

She looks at him, waiting for him to be angry for revealing something that’s no business of hers to talk about.

“You’re very afraid of us losing Drin because you said or did the wrong thing, and you tell him anyway, even though you’re afraid,” he says.

Emma finds herself sitting with her mouth open, unable to say a word.

“We– I am– not afraid of that now, because he isn’t going to be scared away like that. Not that easily.”

Emma finds her own eyes filling with tears. The certainty is so clear in his tone of voice. God bless the man, whatever else he has been doing, Drin has convinced Dance that he loves him. That Drin is in it for whatever decent duration is given them. God bless him.

Dance hands her some more tissues, and she nods wordlessly, and wipes her eyes.

“Okay,” Dance says hoarsely, gripping his hands onto his knees tightly. “Show what you found, so we pick a good bed for Drin, yes?”

“Okay,” Emma says. She blows her nose loudly, in a very unladylike manner, and dabs her eyes clear, and tackles bringing up images from her searches on furniture.

The New Bed

Dance lays down carefully on the new bed, wrinkling the new sheets. Drin and Emma are looking at him with that suspense on their faces: Will it be all right?

He wriggles a little bit, and stares up at the ceiling. He is in a different spot than he would have been in his old bed; this bed is wider, longer. “Hmm,” he murmurs, staring upward. “It feels…big. Lonely. Such empty place.”

Drin leans on the foot-board, smiling a little, and shakes his head. He can guess what’s coming.

“What?” Emma demands.

Dance smiles slowly at them. “I think it needs more people in it.”

Nobody is surprised when Emma flings herself at him and starts tickling him.

Flight Dreams

“You might not want to do that,” Emma says.

Drin looks at her, and then at the skateboard in his fist. “What? This? What’s wrong with giving Dance a decent board?”

She gives a long, slow smile, and turns back to her desk. “You remember I said he’s absolutely fearless?”

“And I believe you.”

She shakes her head, writing notes in her phone log. “Just take him to a skatepark and see what happens. Come to think, I wonder what he’ll do with bungee jumping? Or skydiving?”

Drin sits down on his own chair, and continues to stare at her.

When she’s finished writing her notes, she turns to him, reaches out, takes his hands gently, and says, “I know, those are expensive hobbies, so I don’t encourage you to–”

“You’re serious,” Drin says.

“Oh yes. Have you seen him use the high dive?”

person mid-leap off high dive b/w photo
Leaping

“About gave me a heart attack the first time,” Drin says reminiscently.

“Me too,” Emma agrees, eyes crinkling as she smiles up into his face. “I think I’ve told you a few stories about it already, but really, that first summer, I took off three weeks from work, first time ever, and I went driving Dance around to cheap old amusement parks. We spent that whole time going to visit roller coasters. Every one I could afford to drive to. I ate so much cotton candy and hot dogs, you wouldn’t believe. He likes to try to stand up, on the older ones, and hold out his arms. Gave the attendants heart attacks!”

Drin makes a face. “Given his reflexes, he’s probably fine doing that, but– and you didn’t even try to stop him, did you, you wicked thing, you? My God, woman, you’re such a rowdy, I had no idea.”

“That, lovey, is why I’m warning you about the skateboard. You might have to set some rules, just to avoid giving you that heart attack all over again. But I think you get what he needs much better than I do. Dance is like a little kid on stuff like this. He wants to fly.” She lifts both hands wide, fingers spread.

“So we should get him flying lessons,” Drin says. He knows he sounds a little impatient.

“No, not in a machine. Ask him. He’ll tell you that’s not good enough.”

partly draped young man with long hair
But what kind of wings

At Shura’s diner, reunited after the weekend apart, Drin has a sunburnt, wind-blown look to him, and Dance is languid, relaxed. Of course he’s been very well-loved indeed, given Drin’s undivided attention for several days in a row, and it shows in the way he touches Drin, but the calm is new. By now, they all know that lovemaking like that usually energizes Dance, gives him ideas, makes him want to fix things and dig up his garden and whistle while he’s cooking. He gets so excited about things that it’s very cute.

“What was the big secret adventure present?” she asks.

Drin has got freckled by sun deeply enough that his teeth look white against his skin. “Hang gliding lessons.”

She clasps her hands together, gives a little shout of laughter. “Perfect!”

Dance gives her a sidelong glance, smiling, and leans into Drin beside him, and sighs. “It was very good. Our husband is so sneaky.”

parasails at Torry Pines gliderport
parasailors at Torrey Pines gliderport