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" Mystic Beluga | 2009 | In the Cave "

02.15.09 1:27 p.m.

It is not a virtue to refrain from hurting others, but it is a virtue to bear a hurt patiently.  

-Solomon Ibn Gabirol



"So, does the ex still hate me for being a lush?" Stevehen asks.

I shake my head. "Emily doesn't hate you, she just thought - oh, you are talking about your ex. Melissa hates you for being a lush?"

"I hear she thought I was drinking all the time because of her," he replies, clarifying, "because of the breakup."

"Oh, I don't think I'd really heard that. You were posting on Facebook about drinking, though. It could give a girl ideas." This is not to say, as I stand in his apartment, I didn't think she hated him. While tentatively negotiating going on the first date of this new phase of their relationship, things did not progress as Stevehen has hoped and he posted something to Facebook that she took to be passive-aggressive. She cut him off and promptly appointed me their intermediary, as she still had business with him (the return of a bag of clothing, the custody of a television) and didn't want to have to deal with him in person again. Mathematically, I am really the only option for a go-between and I do want to observe this story, so I didn't argue against the imposition of my new role. I didn't really consider it a bother, since it would force both of them to have to see me until they reached something more of a satisfying conclusion (despite the fact that he initially assumed that I would be likewise cutting him out of my life).

This whole evening could have been more awkward, as I was invited to Stevehen's apartment by Hannah, who had never before met him. While Stevehen could have been feeling out where my loyalties were (I'm not taking sides, but Melissa is my sister), I likewise remained uncertain exactly why Hannah didn't come on the aquarium trip and assumed it was my fault rather than that she was dealing with matters unrelated to me. Additionally, Hannah's ex and Stevehen's estranged friend James was making us dinner, which added extra channels through which the unease could flow (though I remain indifferently positive toward him). I decided the clearest path through all the latent drama was to completely ignore its existence and behave as normally as possible until someone forced me to confront some complication.

Minutes later, I rescue Hannah from the street and bring her up to the apartment. She is visibly distressed, but I have a difficult time gauging its severity. Her Appalachian demeanor can make "weather-related discomfort" appear similar to "just witnessed family crushed by aroused elephants". When inside, I outright ask her why she is upset, feeling that this qualifies as having been confronted.

"I am just coping with the fact that no one will ever love me," she three-quarter-jokes. She tells a familiar tale, of her not-boyfriend Arthur claiming he is doing "family things" on Valentine's Day weekend despite the fact that his family lives in North Carolina. If he is cheating on her (if he can given that they aren't actually a couple), he needs to get better at his lies. There are certain rules one must abide. If you are sleeping with someone on a semi-regular basis, you need to do something with them for Valentine's Day or pay with your skin for disappointing them. Then again, perhaps he was spending time with the woman who regularly lets him into her bed and said person just wasn't Hannah. There is certainly nothing like actual commitment between them, but respectful transparency would seem to prolong a good thing for quite a bit more time than weak deceit.

Stevehen echoes her sentiment, replacing her joking despair with uncut sarcasm. I tease about a bipartite solution to their respect complaints, then amend that I expressly forbid that on account of the abject horror that would absolutely ensue and wish for it to be stricken from the record, but they've stopped listening long before I've properly started speaking - which does seem to be the best policy in general.

We spend the rest of the evening in the living room, watching bad sci-fi movies and discussing comics because we are exactly that exciting (though, in our very limited defense, we do discuss the comic in which I was published and the one Hannah and I are still revising to suit the wishes of Cave Drawing Ink). Stevehen then asks if I will be spending the night and I reflexively cling to Hannah.

"Touching me doesn't allow you to absorb my superpowers," she says, as I had been trying to use my finger laser to cut her head open so that I could study her brain. "I don't think you'd want my superpowers anyway, given what I am good at. They wouldn't make you more heterosexual."

I clutch her arm anyway. "Doesn't matter. I am touching girl-flesh. I am straight." I proffer her pliant wrist at him. "Straight, Stevehen!"

He leers past her limb. "Come on, spend the night! You can sleep on the bed and I'll just watch you all night. I won't touch you. Much." The fact that he does not make any remark close to this creepily intimate to Hannah - who is the gender to which he claims exclusive attraction - or James - who had been his friend longer, if not sequentially - is likely meant as something of a compliment or a statement of his comfort with me. This is, at least, what I tell myself.

My role barely outlasts this night. Stevehen shrugs off most of my messages from Melissa, saying he can deal with her directly because he is an adult. Despite Melissa seeming affronted that I hung out with her ex instead of her (because she hadn't invited me to do anything and Hannah did), things die down. Soon after, Melanie and I make a point of hanging out with Melissa alone. Maybe forty-five seconds elapse before Stevehen calls, asking for a ride to Melissa's apartment.

"News travels fast," I say, not wanting to commit to the ride until I have one more detail.

"Melissa told me you guys were going over there," he replies, providing the fact that (obviously) Melissa had invited him. Their period of animosity lasted less than a week, which is something of a record in dealing with an erstwhile live-in ex.

This seems to make things easier for me, as practicing diplomacy has never been my strong point (especially when my friends outright say they hate one another), but could ultimately result in more severe awkwardness than my having to establish whether Stevehen is invited somewhere or just struck with sudden onset psychic powers/the technical skill to tap cell phones. And I say this with the full awareness that I go out of my way not to let exes - even those that make me the punchline to jokes - completely leave my life. Keeping that buffer in place, retaining whatever emotional distance you can until you are both ready to consider trying for a true friendship, seems harder than it is. Yet Stevehen and Melissa appear friendly now. Occasionally, I get the feeling that she needs to keep him in place - like when he is looking through the booklet for her apartment for when he moves back to the development - but it is nowhere near as much as I would need to be stopped from testing for every chink in the wall (I am the velociraptor of the post-dating scenario).

Their unlikely friendship persists with Stevehen not stepping too far over the line Melissa has drawn in the sand and Melissa not cutting him to shreds for some small presumption. They watch bad horror movies with Melanie and me, joking and teasing naturally, even when Melissa harasses him for aspects of their post-dating life. Aside from not kissing - and I don't recall ever having seen them kiss when they were together - their interactions do not differ in the slightest, aside from the fact that I now see them more. I clearly cannot predict their course by how I would behave in their respective roles, so I will just have to see through this intermediary place.

Soon in Xenology: Stalking prey. Infections.

last watched: Sleepaway Camp
reading: Identity Crisis
listening: Damien Rice

" Mystic Beluga | 2009 | In the Cave "

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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