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07.19.05 8:52 p.m.

Cheerfulness and contentment are great beautifiers and are famous preservers of youthful looks.  

-Charles Dickens


Previously in Xenology: Xen took a shine to Dives Dives, though not as much as Emily. Melissa was the odd duck in her family. Kei and Dan got engaged. Xen had good intentions.


My hair smells like orange peels and cream. My hands smell of loose change. Yet on me is the scent of Dives Dives.

I don't want to take my clothes off, because then the night will be over.

They met me at the Highland fireworks, a festival atmosphere for people who would not attend something called a festival for fear of peaceniks. The fair was held on the baseball field of the local high school, visible above the throngs. Vinyl booths interrupted the crowd, hawking fried Twinkies and other foods one would be wise to never put in one's body.
Dives Dives and Jenni  
Granting wishes

According to the message she left on my phone, Dives Dives and her cousin Jenni were dressed as their inner goddesses, in that their clothing flowed and they were painted with make-up in places and ways that may not have been intended by the manufacturers. These small differentiations, as well as their wielding of leather-bound wands, made them invisible to the great unwashed. Perhaps not strictly invisible, but the people holding their children against them certainly wished that Dives Dives and Jenni were not apparent.

After a warm hug in greeting, I was forbidden to speak until I could devise a proper fairy name for Jenni. I stumbled and, spotting the gray vine painted on her arm, offered that she should be Snapdragon using the Shakespearean logic that fairies are named after nature features of the landscape. They changed this to Dragonfly, not that they mentioned it a single time afterward, and I was granted back my power of speech.

Dives Dives and Jenni wanted to indulge in the inflated castled reserved for small children, but were denied implicitly and so did not bother pressing the issue. At any moment, they felt, the multitude could turn violently against them. Jumping on a rubber building simply wasn't worth the threat.

In trying to grant wishes, their sport of choice, we ran across Oberi, Dives Dives's ex-boyfriend. They hugged congenially and he seemed accepting of my existence. Were I in his situation, I would likely be sizing any male companion of my ex-girlfriend up, but he did not. He was merely comfortably, having just returned from a soul-searching road trip with his father.

We set up the blanket Jenni carried about her neck and reclined. Dives Dives and Jenni were as close as lovers, cousins far more like sisters. I could not keep my eyes off of them, their little familiar gestures and abridged phrases. It is rare that two people that share blood are actually family. I grew fond of them. I love my friends as individuals, but their interactions with other people - particularly those other people that I also love - creates this synergy that is intoxicating. I could watch and listen to my friends for days without getting bored. Jenni grew in my esteem just from her physical and emotional proximity to Dives Dives. In a few moments of contact, I considered her a closer friend than I do of some people I have known for years. She was fond of Dives Dives and Dives Dives of her; that was enough of a recommendation for me.

We did not remain at the fireworks long, leaving for New Paltz the moment the first one blossomed in the gloaming. The energy, Dives Dives said, was all wrong for our sort of people. She in specific was disinclined to remain and not merely for fear of being hunted. She grew up in Highland and seeing so many people with whom she had grown up put her off the carnival. They were too conservative for her and familiar in the most pejorative sense.

I could somewhat relate, having encountered and been happily greeted by one of my former students, who promptly ran away in embarrassment that I replied at all. I never much enjoy hearing a young teenager screaming my surname, particularly the sort of young teenager whom I had to yell at for purposely being annoying.

New Paltz was, as always, more agreeable to our blood. Lovely girls in flowing clothes covered in sparkles blend into the night of New Paltz. While the intent of their clothing and make-up was to be cutely disruptive in Highland, confrontational with a cheerful grin, they had not expected that parents would fear to have their children look upon their curling eye-liner tattoos. What if the children grew up expressing opinions that slightly differed from parrots (gun hording, women hating, war lusting, minority quashing parrots, but parrots all the same)? We'd have to dash their brains out with rocks.

We ended up in the Oasis after only a few minutes walking, which was nothing to which I was averse. The last time I had been at this bar, it was far more crowded, louder, and indistinct. Black walls and a small dance floor being abused by premeditatively drunk dancers. Now it was painted cranberry and covered in student art. There were plush sofas at appropriate intervals. A band featuring a cellist set up on a small stage, though the band never got around to doing anything more than warm up. This was my sort of place.

Dives Dives offered me a drink, which I declined automatically. She returned with three cups, two of alcohol and one of water. I do so adore anyone who knows my needs unspoken.
Dives Dives and Jenni  
Entwined like goddesses

We took to playing billiards. I sat on a small cushioned chair and watched them, unabashed, as they bantered and caressed. I was nearly as at ease with Jenni as with Dives Dives, which is a rarity. I am not comfortable around new people easily. As Emily is pleased to remind me, I like who I like and no one with whom I don't instantly click can achieve the attachment of my first impression. I was intrigued with Jenni, this lithe, twenty-eight-year-old wearing the body and face of someone much younger. The secret to their eternal youth, Dives Dives confided, was that they still play a lot. Had the alchemists only known Philosopher's Stone was so simple to come by.

Jenni stood to lead a striped ball to its oblivion, though she was assigned the destruction of solid balls. She moved so well and becomingly that I asked Dives Dives sotto voce, "Did your family breed with angels?"

Dives Dives took this as a compliment, though I imagine it more as an honest question, and insisted I repeat it to Jenni.

"No, we have just escaped the clutches of our family," she responded frankly. They had all of the favorable genetic matter, apparently meaning that the rest of their family was left a subhuman slime.

Dives Dives won our game, but I did not wish to play the winner, as had been the arrangement. Jenni deftly made me play as her surrogate after a few shots, nevertheless, but this was interrupted by Emily's call.

Emily was at Nationals, being coached by her idol Sharon Williams (who adores and admires Emily in return, having had a picture of M on her wall long before they actually met). I told her what I was doing at the moment and with whom. She suggested that we break up, since I plainly have much more fun when she is not within five-hundred miles.

"Don't be ridiculous. My having fun has absolutely nothing to do with your not being here. It is just situational and circumstantial."

"And," Dives Dives explained when I handed her the phone to take my shot as Jenni-surrogate, "we've spent the entire night talking about you." This wasn't strictly true, though Dives Dives had insisted I show Jenni all the pictures of Emily that I had on me.

At some point, I must had hugged or caressed Jenni without thinking much about it. Dives Dives explained that I am affectionate, but this is not precisely the case. I am inclined toward Dives Dives, and joy in Jenni. As a rule, I am neither affectionate nor dispassionate, I feel. The chemistry I experience with Dives Dives dictates that my fingers should infrequently stroll down her inner arm, where she had written "free your mind" in wet ash. This same chemistry dictates that Jenni is a rare sort of girl and is deserving of warmth, but I know hundreds of people who would be surprised to learn I was affectionate, people around whom I sit quietly. I go long periods with my arms crossed at my chest or held behind my back, giving no notice that I am interested in the world outside of my head, observing people. Affection is the exception, not rule.
Free your mind  
Free your mind

I just watch them and glory. I am sure I must look indiscriminately smitten at a distance and I don't know that this is the wrong terminology to use. As the above attests, I am not stingy with my interest once piqued.

I raise my hand to my face now and, in the lowering, catch the scent of Dives Dives again. Between fumbling shots, I had asked her what she was wearing that smelled so inviting. She stated that she was wearing nothing and a surreptitious olfactory examination of her body (Her wrist thrust at my face, a kiss on her left shoulder) did not demonstrate a place that was scented, but still I wanted to breathe her in. Scent is the strongest motivator of memory, what distinguishes the most vivid dreams from this world. A wafting of baking cookies and you are three again, in your grandmother's kitchen as your cousin drops your bright red and yellow airplane on the lemon linoleum floor. Scent is the key to the Pandora's Box of recollection, the developer for eidetic memory.

They stand close before me and it is undeniable. Jen and Dives Dives are what sisterhood is in a utopia, truly in love with one another and a composite that is stronger than the sum of its extraordinarily lovely parts. They hold one another as though there is no other way to precisely convey the world.

The night ended before midnight, but I did not wish to be outside their presence, though it meant I would be able to give Dives Dives the lingering embrace of intimates and a chaste peck on the cheek. Jenni got away with a brief hug, though she had the rest of the week while Dives Dives was off to make up for all those thousands of hours where the two are separated by states and miles.


Let us be clear here: my friends are amazing. This is why I spend as much of my time with them as I can manage. If you, the loyal reader, for any reason feel that my dear friends fall into a stark stereotype, it is my deficit as a writer and not theirs as people.

Last night, I had a diner meal with Melissa, Keilaina, and Dan where they pointed my lack to one another while I was in the bathroom. I hid behind my menu when I returned and realized that I had fallen into a trap. This all began when Dan confided to Melissa that he had read a lot about her as a means of bridging their first meeting gap. I halfway presume that all of my friends have already met all my other friends. Melissa assured him that she was not nearly as bad as I made her out to be. Staring at the word "chicken fingers" would obviate my sins against them, if I could only stare hard enough.

I mean well, as you must understand, but there is the unfortunate fact that you do not care to read about Melissa watching movies and discussing politics with me. You want action and naughty exposition. Our quiet moments - those that make up the bulk of any friendship that lasts a decade - do not translate as well into something readable, particularly when conversations must be bowdlerized to omit personal facts that I am specifically commanded not to mention. (God, but those things I am forbidden are juicy.)

Melissa is more than a formerly drug addicted slut and Keilaina is not a dithery, boy-obsessed monkey. Neither is the case, or rather, if these quality exist at all, they are such small parts of either's personality that they reveal nothing of the big picture (unless you chose to understand how strong Melissa is for fighting a cocaine addiction as a teenager). This is particularly the case given that Melissa is distinctly no longer a drug addict and that Keilaina is engaged to Dan, rather divorcing them from any accidental notions I may have given you to the contrary.

I did not have any plans this night beyond the typical "sit and write" until nine, at which point Melissa called and said that she needed to do something involving people and instructed me to call Zack, Dives Dives, or any other potentially available people. I took this to my typical extreme, going so far as to call a girl I had met only once at a coffee shop a year before because she happened to be in my address book. She did not answer.

We ended up meeting Zack at the movies but, for want of my cult deprogramming skills, could not coerce Cristin and him away from the theater showing Kung Fu Hustle. While we waited, Melissa's friend Mike wandered by with his... well, let's call her a whore and be honest here... Alex. Cristin bantered with Mike, as they used to work together and Alex tried her damnedest to convince Zack that she knew him. She did, incidentally, but Zack was not budging on acknowledging her. Melissa would later use this as a strong example of how incestuously close our community is, that you cannot stand outside a theater without everyone having worked or slept with everyone else.

A late dinner with Keilaina and Dan was a better albeit surreptitious plan. Melissa would not enter Keilaina's house for fear of a potential interaction with someone she did not already know, so I left her in the car to enjoy a calming cigarette. Once inside, Dan gave me an abridged version of the events leading up to his proposing to Keilaina while she did her best to blind me with the enormous rock on her finger. His plan was meticulously researched, involving the best romantic scenes in New York City, including a tiny restaurant at which they waited over an hour for a table, and ending with a horse-drawn carriage ride through Central Park at midnight. The boy is an expert at making me look bad by comparison, but he makes Kei happy and so we will let him live.


I just returned from my first visit to my new apartment. It is smaller than I thought, though larger than the parking lot space Emily used to estimate the size of our living room. We do have separate rooms for living and sleeping. That is a treat.

The carpet is immaculate, though they just put a fresh coat of paint over everything else, including bits of electrical tape on the medicine cabinet.

This will be my home at least for the next year unless I wish to default and give Chelsea Ridge my first homunculus. Their contracts are seemingly forged by a minor demon who spent his life in the bowels of an earthly bureaucracy.

Last night, in searching for the number to call the apartment complex, I found a website with 78 reviews calling my new home a slum at the very kindest. I want badly to believe that it is nothing more than one disgruntled tenant making their voice overheard.

I want this to work because I have so very much to lose if it doesn't, and not merely monetarily. Emily needs this place, which goes nearly without saying given how much of it I have been doing.

My parent's have already begun the necessary process of purging their home of remnants of me, particularly in my bedroom. My mother insists that she can be moved out of the room with one weeks notice, but I think we both understand that this time it is for keeps. The Walden apartment, shoebox that it was, was like a practice apartment, a life on training wheels. It's actually up to me to make a life this time I have no other place to sleep but Emily's lumpy and ancient mattress should I feel lonesome because Emily is on call.


"That little goth girl looks all sad and lonely," I proclaimed, squinting at a monochrome figure silhouetted against the green of the grass.

"She's ten," Melissa informs me, making no effort to disguise her contempt.

"She is? Ten year olds can be goths?" I put on my glasses and the distance focused. While not ten, she is certainly young enough that twenty is a far horizon. Twenty is old to her, a separate species, as relevant as forty to her tiny mind.
Your name is Amy

I opted then not to ask her to watch fireworks with us, but encounter her up close as I went into Wendy's to use the bathroom. Melissa, her eighteen-year-old cousin Liz, and I were sitting in the parking lot of Wendy's, waiting for fireworks. We are classy that way.

The goth girl was short, showing every bit her age and insecurity behind black lipstick. She looked younger for all of her efforts to project a jaded and streetwise exterior.

"We thought you looked lonely, thought maybe you'd want to watch fireworks with us," I state, motioning vaguely to the two girls that justify my plurality and underscore the fact that I was being gentlemanly and in no way romantic toward her.

"Wull, my dad's over there," she squawked, shifting her weight to one leg and back and diverting her eyes to the knoll.

This was a bad idea. She spoke in the nasal tones of a child who has been overindulged all her life, Veruca Salt covered in grease paint. She has not known want, though I have known little myself. She has not seen pain and death, though she dresses as though mourning a larval lover in post-apocalyptic America. I did not know that Hot Topic made torn fishnets in children's sizes.

"Ah, I understand - " I began, my feet already moving so she could not speak more and spoil my escape from good intentions.

"But I could ask him if I could hang out."

I edged away further, back to the blanket. "Well, I suppose you could."

We were not the most savory sort of people. Liz, especially, given that she was wearing a dog collar and copious jewelry. Melissa and I were fairly conservative owing to the necessities of our respective professions. Still, we wouldn't look, from a distance, like the sort of people with whom any reasonable father would let his gothling cavort.

Do not think that I am even slightly averse to Liz. Quite the contrary. When I concertedly watched her for the first time, wearing her oversized blue sunglasses and taking a drag off a cigarette, I exclaimed, "Melissa, I get it, you aren't adopted." Absolutely no one in Melissa's family, up to this point, seemed even remotely like her.

Melissa and Liz exhaled their cigarette smoke at the same moment in the same way and looked at me with the same querulous eyes.

"Or," I continued, "if you are, she is too."

The goth girl walked over moments after I had settled myself and warned Melissa and Liz what I had done.

"I had to tell a little black lie," the gothling squealed. Oh damn.

"Which was?" I ask immediately. I like to know when I am being lied about.

She stumbled before proclaiming, "I told my dad that you were old friends from school." She is too young to have old friends from school, nor would anyone believe this who wasn't too blind to enjoy fireworks.

I resigned myself to introductions. "I'm Thomm, this is Melissa, and that is Trixie." We had previously discussed dressing me in chains and leather to introduce to Liz's father as something to do with the rest of or evening. In this scenario, I would call Liz Trixie and be surprised when corrected. I would also be Welsh and drunk, if my accent was to be believed.

Melissa informed the gothling that her cousin was Liz and I was a dork.

"I have two names too. I'm Amy and my gothic name is Chassa." She literally - hand to the gods - used the phrase "gothic name."

We all looked askance at her, but she wasn't joking. If I remembered my child development courses, she wouldn't be able to use self-deprecating sarcasm for another two or three Eriksonian crises.

"Hi Amy," I said with finality.

We set to trying to ignore that she was there. I had made a huge mistake in trying to be a nice person and I was being punished, it was that simple. We consciously ignored her to the degree that we pawed at and discussed the contents of Melissa's purse rather than engage "Chassa" in any further conversation.

A man wandered by and handed us several packs of sparklers simply because he had a glut of these and wanted to share the flaming joy. Never one to look gift pyrotechnics in the glowing end, we happily accepted and lit them. Amy lit one off mine and put the unlit end in her mouth. She promptly got burned and yelled "ow!" Then - and this is the genius part - she did it again. And again. I am cruel; I made her hold it in her mouth so I could take a picture of it if only to see if she would.

Amy decided that her view of the non-existent fireworks was not good enough, so she moved to sit directly against my arm. Yes, this is precisely what I wanted in my life. Humbert Humbert is a moron if he considers creatures like this one nymphets.
Chassa aflame  
Amy on fire

"I've seen everything and done everything," she said, apropos of very little when the fireworks began.

"Of course you have," I placated. I saw no reason to spare her feelings and, given that she was saying this inches away from a former drug addict who lived more in one week than little Amy will live in her whole damned life, wanted to cut her down before Melissa had to make her cry.

"I'm twenty," she stated in the same tone a moment later and for as much reason.

"Right. Of course you are twenty. That's why we are your school chums." Could she count to twenty? We could only guess.

Somehow, Melissa, Liz, and I got into a discussion of vices when we were able to neglect Amy's presence for a moment.

When my turn came, I explained to Liz, "I don't drink or do drugs. I do like sex, though, and am very good at it, if selective. One should always be very good at one's vices."
Liz aflame  
Liz controlling the fire

Amy broke into the adults' conversation with, "I wouldn't know because I only get raped by ex-boyfriends." She said this at top volume and quite pretentiously pleased. How hardcore she must be if she can brag of repeated rapes. I wish to immediately subscribe to her DeadJournal.

Melissa is a better person than I. She managed to stifle her giggle. I just laughed, doubling over in the effort. If this girl has even been kissed yet, I will be surprised. Apparently, rape can be funny if a tween goth is claiming it as her raison d'etre. You've learned something here today.

We got out of there the minute the fireworks ended. Amy bowed to us, hands held in front, and we laughed again.

Once out of earshot, I was rightly chastised at length and told I was henceforth forbidden to bring outsiders into activities.

In closing, please remember to spay or neuter your goths.

Soon in Xenology: The furthest adventures of Dives Dives, Emily, and Xen. The housewarming party.

last watched: Satan's Cheerleaders
reading: Communion
listening: Real Gone

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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