I was distracted throughout dinner, making notes from time to time but mostly just staring into space and picking at my food. Well, actually I managed to eat a ton, I just was too distracted to notice. Everyone left me alone. I guess they knew me well enough to know when to just leave me be.
Or maybe I actually said something like “I’m not here right now, leave a message,” and they knew me well enough to respect it. Either way.
I kept expecting Ziggy to walk in, but he didn’t. As the meal wound down a series of pages went around and it was determined he was waiting for me at his apartment. Okay.
They dropped me off there. I went up the elevator. I went to the door. I knocked. There was no answer. I knocked again, then got worried he’d hit his head in the bathtub or something and I used my key. The lock opened and I pushed my way into the kitchen area.
On the other side of the counter I could see the main living room area with the huge box-framed modernist bed. That was as usual. What wasn’t as usual was the hundreds–thousands?–of paper stars hanging on fishing lines from the ceiling, some of them woven with white Christmas lights so they were lit up inside, small ones, tiny ones, complex ones, simple ones, suspended in the air like a time-stopped snowstorm or a firefly swarm. There was a star-free path from the front door to the bed and Ziggy was sitting in the middle of the bed, naked, in a half-lotus, meditating.
As I drew closer to him I could see he’d starred and glittered himself, too. Even the sheets were star-patterned.
His eyes opened as I sat on the edge of the bed.
“Hi,” he said. “Congrats on your new band name.”
“Is that what this is about?” Stars for Star*Gaze?
“No,” Ziggy said. “This is an elaborate attempt at exorcism, penance, and seduction all at once.”
I reached up and caressed his glittery cheek. “Sex isn’t going to fix our problems.”
“But can we have some anyway? Please?”
The word “please” whistled out of him like a trapped ghost escaping his mouth.
I’m not one for saying no in the first place, much less in circumstances like that, of course. So we had sex–made love, really–and, I guess, reconnected our souls on a higher plane or something. Don’t laugh, that’s already how I felt, like on some level we were still solid even if we had to figure this earthly logistics shit out. It was that feeling–let’s just call it love for simplicity’s sake–that had kept me from just leaving the night I’d arrived, and was what had put me on the floor when he looked cold and lonely, and was what had buffered me through all the weird, hard, tangled conversations since.
And afterward, we lay in bed in the center of a universe of Ziggy’s making, literally, staring at the stars all around us, and I felt a measure of peace. Not because of the stars, because of the feeling that we were both equally committed to figuring shit out.
“You really don’t know her name?”
“I could probably find out from Jordan,” Ziggy said, snuggled beside me.
“How many hours did making all these stars take?”
“Six or seven. I stopped when I got the page saying you were on the way.”
Exorcism, penance, and seduction, he had said. “Well, the seduction part worked, and I guess the exorcism did, too, since I feel at home in your bed again. Penance, though?”
“Folding each one was like saying I’m sorry, I won’t do it again.”
“Ah. But is it true, Ziggy? What is it you won’t do again? You’re going to fuck random acquaintances. That is a fact of life.”
“And you don’t care?” He seemed disappointed by this.
“I do care, actually. I care a lot, not about the sex per se, but about what it means–or doesn’t. I want you to ask permission next time. Next time and every time. I think we both should.”
His eyes lit up like I’d told him I was baking his favorite dessert. “I can do that. But can you, Daron?”
“I think I can. I want to try anyway. If you’d want to hear it, that is.”
“I definitely want to hear it. Because then at least I’ll know you’re taking care of yourself when we’re apart. Abstinence is bad for you, you know.”
“So I’ve heard.” I kissed him. “I couldn’t have done this last night, though.”
“Did you feel abandoned when I slept on the couch?”
“No. Not at all. That made total sense.”
My spider sense tingled. Ziggy’s nose didn’t grow but my ears did, maybe. However you want to describe it. He was lying. Learning to tell when he was lying and when he wasn’t was probably the most crucial survival skill for the relationship I’d acquired. What I hadn’t learned yet, though, was whether it was going to be better or worse for the relationship in the long run if I forced him to tell the truth in situations like this.
I combed through his wrecked hair with my fingers. “You did. You felt like I was abandoning you.”
He didn’t protest this time.
“Did you feel abandoned when I went to Boston for a week?”
He was silent for a moment, his eyes searching the edges of my face. “Feeling lonely and feeling abandoned are two different things.”
“It would be silly to feel abandoned because you had a vacation I chose not to take with you.”
“Yeah, but these are feelings we’re talking about, and just because it would be silly doesn’t mean you didn’t feel that way.”
“I…talked myself out of feeling it, I think. But then it really hit me when you slept on the couch. Which made total sense because I deserved to suffer. I mean, I’m the one who made it inhospitable for you. Right?”
“That’s a really…Catholic church was of thinking about it.” I kissed him on the forehead. “Do you feel better now?”
“Do you forgive me?”
“No. Because if we get into a cycle of sin and forgiveness this whole relationship is doomed to fail.”
His eyes were wide and full of pinpricks of stars. “Oh.”
“I’m calling a do-over on yesterday. It didn’t happen. We should learn from it, though.”
He nodded. “I shouldn’t have given in to temptation in the first place.”
“No. That’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying get my permission first. Like you did with Polly that time. And that will have the bonus effect of letting me know not to show up at the door.” I sat up and my own hair was a wreck that I had to gather out of my face. “You’re the one who always tells me if I don’t have enough sex I’m going to flip. Isn’t the same true for you?”
“I…yeah. But…” He sat up, too. “I guess having you here every day I didn’t think I was deprived enough to be desperate.”
“You were lonely and horny and after six nights in a row alone you caught what the universe threw at you.” I shrugged. “Ask me next time.”
“And…are you really going to start asking?”
“I am. That seems fair, right?”
“It does.” He was looking at me with a sideways look, though. I waited for him to express his skepticism, but he didn’t. The moment passed and he lay back down.
I lay next to him because I wanted my hands on his skin. I fell asleep while touching him.
In the morning I woke to a note that said he’d gone to meet his personal trainer. I stumbled around a bit, making coffee, running a shower. It took me a while before I realized all the stars were gone. While I’d been sleeping he’d undone all the work he’d done.
Which left the question of when did Ziggy sleep? I was fairly sure he hadn’t. I called Barrett’s office, was told he wasn’t in yet. So I went upstairs and knocked on his door.
He seemed bemused but not surprised to see me. “Need a cup of sugar?”
I tried to figure out how to start to say what I was trying to say.
Barrett’s expression grew serious right away. “Something wrong?”
I settled on five words. “Is Ziggy off his meds?”
Barrett settled for one. “Crap.”
(Kickstarter rewards have started to arrive in the mail! To date the bumper stickers, notebooks, and now the temporary tattoos are in! Still to come, guitar picks, T-shirts, and of course the books themselves! Cool, eh? -ctan)