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Zack and Kari Make a Wedding | 2011 | The Faces That You Meet


I've never felt this healthy before
I've never wanted something rational
I am aware now
I am aware now

You've already won me over in spite of me
And don't be alarmed if I fall head over feet
Don't be surprised if I love you for all that you are
I couldn't help it
It's all your fault

-Alanis Morisette


Head Over Feet

I swear to you, she is wearing shorts in this picture

All night, Amber cuddles against me, using my bicep as her pillow. It has been over a year since she was in a relationship and I wonder if it is as soothing to be held by me as it is for me to hold her. This nocturnal attachment is new to me, particularly when not preceded by hours of sex.

Emily would wrap herself in a quilt until she was, in her words, "burritoed up" sufficient that she could fall asleep. We could have been in separate beds. Melanie insisted upon and generally made use of a separate quilt, though was occasionally amenable to being held (especially when she was insecure about our relationship or recovering from a night terror).

"Will you always sleep against me like that?" I ask Amber when she wakes to me studying her lips.

"I will always want to," she says, answering a bigger question than I meant to ask.

As this is our first morning as a couple, I am eager to please. "Let's talk of breakfast: I have three kinds of cereal - I got Lactaid for you - or I could make us pancake or eggs or pancakes and eggs or toast and jam or we could go out or mrphsr-"

She interrupts me with a kiss, caring nothing about my morning breath. "Whatever you want to make is fine. I am good with cereal."

"In that case, pancakes. And eggs. Do you like your eggs in any special way?"

"Cooked would be nice."

Over breakfast, holding me and kissing syrup from my lips, she asks, "Do you mind that I am going to cosplay model in a bikini at Otakon in a couple of weeks?"

"What? Of course not. I feel I can trust you - it would be stupid to get into a relationship with you if I didn't - and this was your plan before I met you. Why?"

She bites the side of her cheek, remembering. "One of my exes got really jealous about my cosplay."

I kiss her forehead. "I won't get jealous. Don't cheat on me, don't do heavy drugs, see me as often as is reasonable, treat me as well as you have and we are fine. I am a pretty low maintenance boyfriend." I pause, letting the word roll over me. "Hey, guess what?"
I do not know what a "Yoko" is, but it is sexy.

"What?" she asks, knowing it is a game.

"You have a boyfriend!" I grin.

"Yeah, well, you have a girlfriend! And she thinks you are amazing!" she shouts back, easily defeating my grin for brilliance and warmth.

After breakfast and some postprandial snogging to burn off the calories, we get ready to go to the Dia Museum. Amber expresses delighted shock at the notion that she is in a relationship that does not involve dragging the other party kicking and screaming toward something artistic or cultural.

"Oh, I like the Dia. Much of the art isn't very good but-" I pause, taking in what she confessed. "Wait, your boyfriends fought going to museums knowing full well that you are an artist? Also that you would be taking them to a museum and not, say, to be tortured by giant insects."

"I did not have great boyfriends," she reflects.

"I should say not."

Later, as we stand before a primed white canvas fifteen feet to a side, one that begs for vandalism, I ask Amber when she imagines the movie will start, adding, "Do you wish you waited to commit until after you saw what a philistine I am?"

"No, I like you," she says, meaning - like anyone calling herself "artist" - she holds no love for so vast a void she is not permitted to mark. And, I suppose, that she likes me. I am still having a bit of trouble with that concept, simply being liked without complications, without having to relentlessly prove myself worthy of her attention. It is as though a part of me cannot stop fearing that all this talk of wanting a commitment and caring for me is a ruse, that I will mistakenly do or say something that will result in her leaving just as I let my guard down enough to fully love her.

In the basement of the gallery, I ask her what she requires of me in this relationship, as I prefer to know these sorts of things or will talk around them until I feel I do.

"Hugs," she promptly says, taking one in a room full of monochrome projections from a spooky looking house.

"I have those."

"And you?" she asks.

"Kisses, I suppose. I can give myself orgasms, but not affection... Do you want to have a primarily nonsexual relationship? Because I'll-"

She kisses me silent and says that won't be necessary, that she probably would have bedded me this morning had I pushed the issue but that she adored that I hadn't. Shortly after succumbing to being officially coupled, we agreed to put certain acts on hold until after we are properly in love and not merely the beginnings of liking tinged with lust. I don't want to rush things for my own emotional sanctity, but I increasingly do not want to rush things because the idea of going slowly with Amber, the concept of doing this right by her, feels beautiful.

Scanning the art, Amber talks of projects she aspires to do and gives me the basic art school snippets about exhibits she find worthy or unworthy and why. At first, I am timorous about rendering my opinion, except to admit I am largely ignorant and sarcastic about my lack of knowledge. However, I owe Amber nothing less than all of me if this relationship is to continue to grow. So, yes, I do admit that I have trouble finding the aesthetic import of a set of three geometric holes in the ground or a series of ostensibly sloppily crushed cars. My idea of great art remains something that is beyond my capacity to create - to say nothing of conceiving - though I am willing to grant some leeway for the late Fred Sandback, who has works in the museum composed of single pieces of yarn making vast rectangles and triangles. Were I to take Amber to a poetry reading - and I most likely will one day subject her to this - I would want her to acknowledge which poems seemed like nothing more than pretension and ego.

To her credit, she is not taken aback by any of my snarkiness about art. When we run across walls filled with thin colored pencil lines stretching to designs that stress the eyes, Amber halts our progress to examine. The work is drawn freehand on the walls, encompassing hundreds of square feet in its totality, completely at the mercy of patrons not smudging it with their thumbs. While I doubt I see all in this that Amber does, I appreciate it more because it captures her notice for a few minutes.

We run through the exhibits in a few hours, but I want to keep my new girlfriend beside me as long as I can today.

"There are a few options I see before us," I say. "One, we can go back to my apartment. Two, I have a couple of friends who are a town away and to whom I may have mentioned you. Three, we could wander Beacon aimlessly."

"What would you like to do?" she asks.

I think for a moment, startled that she did not tell me that the museum exhausted her capacity for socialization, that she would be happiest in my apartment, on my bed, under me. "I would like to show you off to my friends, actually, to make you more real."

We find Dan P. and Suzie in a café in Cold Spring, growing irritated that they have yet to be served. Amber and I take seats beside them.

"This is Amber," I introduce. "Actually, this is a stranger I hired off the street to portray Amber. If this goes well, you may meet my real girlfriend."

"Wait, I was hired, too? But I thought you hired people to impress me at the wedding?" Amber asks, smirking.

"Girlfriend?" asks Suzie. "As of when?"

"About fourteen hours ago," I say. "We went to a wedding and she was just delightful in every way. I couldn't refrain from being with her properly any longer."
Dan and Suzie  
They are pretty adorable, too.

"Aw, that's sweet," Dan says, then turns to Amber. "So, in what way are you crazy? Thomm sent us a full dossier. No, really, he actually did. But he did not mention your particular brand of mental illness, so fess up, girl."

Amber laughs and I fill in, "I don't actually think this one is crazy. I've been repeatedly asking her, in hopes she will trip up. No scars, eats food and keeps it down, no parent issues, seems to be a complete and content person, no psychiatric meds."

Dan asks, "Does this mean she does not take those prescribed to her?"

"She does not need them," I say. I do understand their concern. I met Suzie in the midst of my relationship with Melanie and she, rather unfortunately, was one of my main confessors as the relationship came into its death throes. Given what she knows I put up with in the last few months of that affair, she has every right to assume that my type can be summed up as "unbalanced", even without ever having heard the full tale of Emily. I do not want that to be my type and I do not think it is. I am largely rid of the issues of my own that whispered that damaged, passionate people were the most worthwhile because I could provide them stability and wholeness. While I was single, I encountered a couple of women - 99% Matches according to the dating site where they found me - that were in the most clinical sense insane. There was one woman whose brand of mental illness was so severe that I honestly feared for my safety if she continued to fawn on me (and I was never encouraging, but she was interested anyway). I put her on block everywhere I could manage when she could not handle being let down gently and am grateful it was soon enough that she only clung to me for a few more unreplied-to letters. If someone who behaves like that is mathematically determined to be almost perfect for me, I worried, I was doomed to dating misery. There was clearly something wrong with me that I was attractive to that lot.

Yet here beside now me was Amber, who makes me feel near to buzzing with joy and who is (by all metrics I have attempted against her) stable and sane. I almost struggle to process my good fortune, but it might simply be that I am allowing myself to fall for a complete person and nothing less this time.

"We like this one," Suzie assures me after a short while of vivisecting Amber as humanely as possible.

"Oh. Good... Wait, really?"

Suzie laughs. "Yes, really."

That was, of course, my hope in introducing them. I am used to my friends having at best mixed feelings about my girlfriend, but until I witness their tentative approval of Amber, it did not occur to me how deeply ingrained this assumption was.

Amber puts up with Suzie's interrogation and Dan's teasing with equal aplomb. I begin to realize that Amber is consistent no matter in what situations she is placed and find the notion a bit confusing, since Melanie had such trouble expressing herself in different social situations. I do not have to cushion Amber from society.

We four wander the town a bit, but there is not much for us and there are too many tourists owing to an antique fair that charges admission (and which we eschew for this reason). After trying on hats in a store to the annoyance of the clerk, who should not leave a fedora in an accessible place if I am not permitted to put it on my head, we give up on Cold Spring.

We end up on a bench, down the street from the vacant Republican Headquarters (to which Dan wishes to do mischief), trying to plan our next move. Since she is sitting on my lap, I ask Amber, "How long would you have kept the status quo, us as friends who kiss, before you insisted I make a decision?"

She squeezes me. "A while."

"A week?"


"A month?"

She shakes her head.

"Three weeks?"

"Pushing it."

I kiss her on the cheek. "I don't think I would have lasted another day without becoming yours."

She nuzzles me, "And you never have to."

Soon in Xenology: Amber.

last watched: Repo: The Genetic Opera
reading: Blink
listening: Bjork

Zack and Kari Make a Wedding | 2011 | The Faces That You Meet

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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