walking wounded (conclusion)

"I wonder if this will distract Alex-" Raymond began.

"Distract her?" Vinnie said with a snort. "Within a week they'll be knee-deep in pet names and in-jokes, and they'll probably be wearing each other's clothes."

Raymond finished his beer, looking uncomfortable, and said, "Vinnie, maybe we should be pushing on."

Lenore put out her cigarette as Vinnie got up, and said, "Can I get a ride from you, Vin?"

Vinnie, halfway into his leather jacket, nodded. "Sure."

They left, and Craig stretched out on his mattress. He closed his eyes for a minute, then opened them and started filling his pipe.

"So, you should tell me some things," Alex said. "Information."

Starling smiled. "What do you want, ancient or modern?"

"Modern."

"I manage Flesh Resistors. They're good."

"How did you get connected with them? What did you do before?"

"I met them through a performance organization I was working with. Theatre pieces and shock-art, you know. We did everything we could think of. Locked people in and experimented. Anyway, some of the people in the group decided to form a band. When they left, I followed them. I can see when something's going to be big."
Lenore leaned over and kissed Vinnie before getting out of the car. He pulled away from the curb as she walked up the path towards her house.

Raymond said, "You two seem to be--"

"I know," Vinnie said sharply.

Raymond wasn't put off. Vinnie depended on him for a place to stay since he'd lost his last job, so Raymond had some clout. "Why don't you?" he asked.

Vinnie looked at the road, driving slowly.
Alex explained to Starling about the epic.

Starling shook her head. "I guess I don't get it. A lot of work for one night, but so what?"

Alex looked at her strangely as they climbed the rickety outside stairs to her apartment. When the door was closed behind them and the lights were on, Alex said, "It is a big deal."

Starling sat on the bed and said, "Seems to me--"

Alex turned on her, angry. "Look, I've heard it all before! There's nothing you can tell me that I haven't known for years. So what?"

Starling stood up and went to the refrigerator. She opened it and took out a beer. Alex hesitated, then stuck out her hand. Starling handed the beer she held to her, then took another for herself. Alex half-sat on the windowsill as Starling sat on the bed. They opened their beers and drank.

Starling looked around. "This is a nice place."

"My father owns the store downstairs. He lets me live here for free. I just have to make enough money to eat, and the band usually does that."
"Maybe I would do something about Lenore, if things were different, Vinnie said finally. "Maybe I should anyway, but I don't think she's all that interested. I mean, it's all tied up with how I just don't fit in. I don't know. I'm just a bum, pretty much. I do shit jobs and I live in a furnished room when I can afford to live anywhere. All that sort of junk. Lenore's a got a good job, she can do whatever she wants. Craig and Alex you know about. I don't know. Maybe it shouldn't matter, but I've never felt that I had all that much in common with anybody in the band."

"I'm not sure how much any of them have in common with the others, though. Maybe you're just another misfit."

"No, that's just from where you stand. Those three have lots of stuff in common. They all look at things the same way. They all look at me in the same way."
Alex could tell that it was one of those times when many new possibilities were opening up. She could tell, also, that very soon there would be many questions surrounding her, vibrating in the air. Maybe the people who would be asking the questions didn't know it yet, but she did. She smiled. She was, she suspected, about to do things which would startle the people around her.

But a new phase of things was finally beginning, and she felt immense relief. Things were going to change now, she knew.

"All it takes is imagination and will, Not even that much imagination if the will is strong enough. Like anything else, it's mostly practice. You ever sing a song all the way through without thinking about it consciously?" Alex nodded. "You just find yourself at the end, with the memory of doing it, but it happened automatically. Well, that isn't the only thing that can work that way"

Alex pulled out her flask and took a swallow. Starling held out her hand. After she drank, she said, "You're designed more for image than for efficiency."

Alex didn't respond.

"Let me tell you about it. Back in pre-history, I was very different. Quite the social reformer. All long skirts and baking bread and birds with broken wings. It was disgusting. But then I changed myself, because I'd set myself up as a victim, a sucker for at anyone and anything with a long face. And I became what I am today. It took a lot of work, but now it comes automatically."

Alex looked at her, and Starling smiled. Then Alex smiled, and Starling ran her finger around the mouth of the flask she was holding. She was suddenly nervous.
Alex was at Raymond's door first thing in the morning. She looked eager and healthy as she asked Vinnie out for breakfast. He combed his hair, got his jacket and went with her.

"Finish the epic?" he asked as they walked along.

"Don't take me so seriously," she said with a smile.

At the restaurant, after they'd ordered, she handed him a half dozen pieces of paper. He was trying to remember if she'd ever worn a safari shirt before. It made her look really nice.

Then he read what she had handed to him. It was the lyrics for the epic, but it was nothing like what he'd expected. He looked up at her and she smiled.

"I figured out what was holding me up. I was trying to make some big statement, about life and death and reality and truth, something cosmic and heavy enough to make my usual stuff seem puny. But those people at the college are getting enough of that sort of stuff as it is. So I decided to go the other way, tell them about what things are going to be like when they get out of that place. I hope some of them get it."
Lenore sat on the edge of her bed, looking out her window. She'd been sitting there for a long time, unlighted cigarette dangling between her fingers, open bottle of Scotch forgotten on the floor beside her. She thought about the events of the evening, about the set and about Starling and about getting the college gig and about kissing Vinnie. She wondered how long it would be until dawn. She couldn't tell if the light on the horizon was her imagination or not, but she knew it would have to come eventually.

Go to: part one; part two

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