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The Birds and the Bees | 2016 | On the Cusp of Old


Do what you love. Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.  

-Henry David Thoreau

Kest, Who Stole Daniel

Whoever wins, we lose.

Across the brightly painted table in the Mexican restaurant, Daniel, puppyish, presses his forehead against Kest. He has an easy foot on her, so the geometry of his leaning cannot be casual.

She was not supposed to be here tonight, but misjudged when she would be able to set up for her show in New Jersey. She decided to make the best of it by driving through another border to spend an unexpected night with Daniel. He understandably cancelled our standing date for podcasting and met us for dinner instead.

Kest's lips curl into a sedate smile as she turns her face to meet his, giving him an unselfconscious kiss. He returns this, then takes her hand and kisses the middle knuckle.

I have never seen Daniel seem this happy in another. When I first met him, he lived with his ex, Hannah, with whom he still had complicated feelings. I have since known him through long distance discontents and local pining. Prior to this moment, I doubt I'd seen him kiss anyone. Most of my relationship with Daniel thus occurred when he was romantically dissatisfied. This state is not a cornerstone of our friendship, but its dust got in the foundation as we built them. Though he wanted female affection, it didn't plague his daily movements.

Daniel once said that ours is a relationship of convenience in part. Should one of us move far, distance would wither the friendship. This wasn't meant as a threat or warning-Daniel doesn't function by these-just dull acknowledgement of the role of proximity. His aborted best man speech, on the other hand, outright stated that he would skin Amber and me should we die that he might wear a cloak of our company. Distance might not prove fatal, even if Daniel himself may.

Kest, though a frequent traveler so she can peddle her wares, is not portable or inclined to move to the Hudson Valley, though no one has to my knowledge asked her. Her forge, her livelihood, is in Maryland so in Maryland she will stay. Daniel has a tiny apartment in Kingston, a job he finds morally uncomfortable helping a bank foreclose on deadbeats, a cat, and a bevy of well-wishers. He could be portable if the need arose. He has done it before.

Daniel moved to this area to be with Hannah, who left years ago to join the Navy and begin a new chapter of her life. He stayed perhaps out of inertia. Despite long distance prospects, he has remained since and without notable complaint.

I acknowledge this all is a feat of premature catastrophizing. I would be mentally packing my bags in Daniel's position, planning a world that allowed me to maximize my Kest-time. It is possible they prefer their arrangement, being the sort of private people who might prefer I not dissect their nascent relationship in public and unbidden, those who prefer ample time to themselves rather than the constant company of their partner. (On that, I am not even wholly sure of the particulars of their arrangement. They seem palpably fond of one another but I do not know that exclusivity is a part of it. However, though she lives three hundred miles away, Daniel and she see one another several times a month for long weekends at a stretch.)

I cannot pretend to understand what Daniel's type is but, when I see him around Kest, it is hard not to imagine that she epitomizes it. Baristas and waitresses have nearly drooled over him, but he valued the serenity of their cafes and restaurants over any potential dalliance they might provide. Kest is elfin and wry, androgynous, talented in a unique field. She asked him on a first date after he passed her mask booth and then did not leave his side for five days. From the moment I met her, it felt as though we were obviously friends, possibly because she listens to Q's in a Pod and thus knows Amber and me more than we know her. I understand why he likes her (and it should be understood that I see why she cares for him, as he is one of my favorite people; I can't fathom why more women hadn't asserted themselves. Once you get past the silver teeth, he's downright cuddly). Daniel has had relationships with women whom I found trying in our limited interaction. Kest is almost without exception infectiously joyful.

Kest has alluded a few times to a prior marriage in her past, though Amber believes it was a common-law affair rather than a union entered into intentionally. Having spent years with the wrong partner, and given the freedom of her travels, I can envision her wanting to keep a state's-worth of buffer between her work and her relationship. A part of me wants to seek preemptive justification for keeping things as quo as this status can be, though I believe I am the only one concerned about alteration.

I am old enough to have learned to share my toys. I love Daniel and genuinely want his happiness more than I need his convenience. If he needed to go, I would not fault the pull. If I have to lose Daniel, it's hard to imagine I would lose him to better.

Soon in Xenology: Art.

last watched: Daredevil
reading: The Ersatz Elevator
listening: Regina Spektor

The Birds and the Bees | 2016 | On the Cusp of Old

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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