Claire was alert again, and she was asking for me. And there I was not even wearing pants.
I told them to tell her I’d be there as fast as I could. I threw on clothes while Ziggy threw some stuff into a bag and went to pull the car around so I could just jump in once I was dressed.
He gunned the engine down the highway, and I should have been too out of my mind to think, but maybe to keep from obsessing about what might or might not be happening at the hospital, my brain replayed fragments of the conversation with Patty.
“What did she say?”
“Claire? We don’t know.” He slipped on his sunglasses as we drove toward the setting sun.
“No. Patty. Before I got out of the shower.”
“Oh. Not a lot. She was all small talk for a couple of minutes, and I was like, Patty, you didn’t call me in the middle of nowhere to make small talk.”
“You actually said that?”
“Or something like it. She was like, you’re right. But I wanted to warm you up.”
I put my hands over my eyes. “Literally? And we used to say half the problem with Mills was he wouldn’t use lube before he fucked you over.”
“I don’t think she meant it in a sexual way, but.” He chewed his lip. “But maybe. Let’s not read too much into it, all right?”
“Zig, this woman is already way too deep into our intimate lives.”
He sucked in a breath. “I know. But like I said. Let’s not read too much into it. I’m not sure exactly how much she knows.”
“Oh, you mean like the fact she seems to think we’re wearing rings as camouflage?”
He nodded, then cursed as he swerved to avoid a truck drifting into our lane. “She made that assumption. I mean, it’s partly true. You even told me the thing you wanted was a ring that would warn others away from me, and yourself, right?”
My heart felt like it was squished against my rib cage, like there wasn’t enough room for it in my chest. Maybe that’s what happens when your dying mother wakes up from a near-coma and asks for you. “Yes, but–”
“So they are doing their job. The appearance of heteronormativity.”
“That isn’t what I said.” I felt dizzy. “Or it isn’t what I meant. I mean, yeah, I had that thought, but it was more like… I mean, when someone wears an actual wedding ring, that’s why it works, because it …” I wasn’t explaining this well. “I mean, I was jealous of having an actual ring that would mean that, not just the appearance of that.”
“I get that, dear one. And to me it means everything. We’re bonded as much as any married couple, maybe more. But that’s what we know. To the outside world, it still looks like we must each have a girl at home. Right?”
“Right.” Hearing him say ‘we’re as bonded as any married couple’ went a long way toward making me feel calmer.
“We’re always going to have to manage the public perception of our relationship. No matter what Patty wants. Remember that.”
I guess I had kind of forgotten that. Or thought that it wouldn’t matter so much with us each off on our own career paths. But if we were really going to be musical partners again, for real…
Meanwhile, the replays of the conversation were still going on, making it hard for me to concentrate. “You told her you thought Digger would show up here.”
There was so much in that “yeah,” so much meaning hanging in the sound of it, I could just hear it.
“Yeah?” Another one.
“Zig.” I swallowed and pushed the words out of my mouth. “Did you tell Digger where we are?”
“If you think Lilibeth hasn’t already told him where we are, you’re giving her too much credit,” he said.
“Court said Lili is coming over to our side.”
“And she couldn’t have told him before they had that talk? Hm? And besides, it isn’t as simple as asking your sister to pick a side.”
“Okay, no. You always say things aren’t this or that, but there really is either Claire’s side or Digger’s side in this one.”
“Wrong. Lilibeth might be on her own side. I certainly trust her to try to act in her own best interests over either of your parents’.”
“Well, but either she is respecting Claire’s wishes or she isn’t. That is black and white. Either you are or you’re not. If she told Digger where to come, she didn’t respect Claire’s wish to never see him again.”
He frowned. Even with his sunglasses on I could see that. “Hm. I can’t really argue with you there. But look, the point is not whether Digger is going to show up or who told him how to get here. The question is what to do when he’s here.”
I pointed the AC vents away from myself. “Remo and I talked about that a little. Neither of us wants to resort to violence.”
“Of course not.”
“But the one thing Digger wants is to get a rise out of us, probably. So we don’t want to give him that satisfaction, either. And if Claire’s awake again, I just know he’s going to try to see her.” I wondered if there was a way to station a guard at her door or something. “What if she rallies for another week or something? We’re going to have to dealing with him constantly, I bet.”
Ziggy tightened his grip on the steering wheel and his knuckles whitened. “How about this. You leave him to me.”
“You shouldn’t have to–”
“I want to. Let me handle him. I’m the only one who wants to talk to him, and I’m the last person he wants to see.” His eyes were focused on the road in front of us, so far as I could tell.
“You have to trust me.”
Oh. I hadn’t thought that was what this was about, but then I realized maybe it was. Was that why I was objecting? I didn’t trust him? “I just think you shouldn’t have to be the only one, and I should stand with you when you deal with him.”
He nodded, and turned the wheel. We were nearing the hospital. “I appreciate the support. But I really feel it’ll be best if I handle him on my own. And I also think that’s the only way we’re going to successfully keep him away from Claire.”
“But you have to trust me.”
Part of me wanted to ask “why?” But then would that be me not-trusting him? Didn’t I trust him? There was a time when I didn’t. It had been a lot of hard work on both our parts to reach a place where we trusted each other. And we did, now. I think.
I had been staring at him as I thought it over. He threw the car into park but didn’t get out. This time he said, “I need you to trust me.”
“I trust you,” I said, and pulled him into a hurried kiss before I rushed into the hospital.
(This song charted in 1974 when first released, but then this cover-duet hit again in 91-92, when George Michael and Elton John, who were both still technically in the closet at that point, sang it together. -d)