AN: This is extremely rough and not the beginning of a long story. This is probably it. My blockage finally broke tonight and I spent the last couple of hours writing. It's not the best, not by a longshot. The subject didn't require much thought because aside from some slight changes, it's pretty much nonfiction. I'm just happy that I wrote something, so happy that I decided to share. Not much will be explained because it's just a slice of something.
Oh, yeah, the point of the AN - Tiko means Uncle in Serbian. And the italics bit is the past. Hope that comes across as being clear. I figured making it in italics would be easier.
I feel foolish, staring at his wall of vinyl records, pretending to read the faded spines. I can't concentrate well enough to take any of the letters in but I run my fingers along the ridges anyway as I shuffle down the rows. My smile is brief and I can feel him standing behind me, watching. No one has ever interested me in such a way. I want to spend months picking apart his brain. I want to ask him inappropriate questions while we watch The Outer Limits in his living room.
I keep my back to him. I have a hard time meeting his eyes for too long and I don't completely understand why. I've never had a problem with eye contact and if anything, it's been something I prided myself on. I'm not used to being the first to break under the analysis, feigning interest in wallpaper. I am absolutely certain that he has noticed my difficulty and I can only hope that it amuses him, maybe he even finds it endearing in a way. There is a romantic notion that takes root every time I drive away from his house. A notion I put absolutely zero faith in.
"Do you want to play something?" His voice is smooth, the accent turning the words into something foreign. I nod and force myself to read the titles, looking for a favorite.
"We can't play a record, I need a new needle but I have plenty of CDs."
I leave the records and look at him, keeping my distance even though I don't want to. I want to slide up to his side and press my chin against his shoulder. He asks me what I want to listen to and I tell him to surprise me, knowing that he'll choose something he already knows I like. I feel awkward so I wander to the bookshelf to give myself something to look at. I hear the shuffling of plastic cases until he finally choose one from the pile of CDs beside his stereo. The subtly ominous opening chords to The Teachers Are Afraid Of The Pupils softly fills the small house and I smile.
"Not exactly a surprise," I smile, abandoning his books. I almost ask if he was afraid of me but I don't.
"Maybe not," he shrugs. He launches into his theories as to why the particular record is given a rough time and I wonder where my voice has gone. I'm actually very fond of the record, not disagreeing with any of the points that he's making. I am jealous that he's had longer to accumulate due to his age. I almost wish he had chosen something else because listening to this is only reminding me of the awkward hug we shared after the concert in Los Angeles. I hadn't realized that we were past the shaking hands stage. I spent the entire two hour and a half drive home going over the brief encounter, agonizing over what I should have done and said.
He offers me a drink and I take it. We talk but later on the drive home I don't remember much of what we said.
I watch the never ending arrival of people, leaning back against a palm tree. I try not to look out towards the street and I ignore the tension in my back. He was in the check out line at Amoeba when he called and The Palladium isn't far. I just have to wait. I wish we had driven up here together. That way I could have gotten past my nerves far before the show. But because he was already in L.A. visiting friends I made the drive by myself. I stare at the fans going through the security and bounce back against the tree.
He shouts my name and I catch him hurrying towards me, weaving between cars waiting for the venue's valet parking. I smile widely and wonder how stupid it must look. He doesn't seem to notice. He looks like he belongs here more than the majority of the fans simply because he was a fan before there was an adopted style with loving the man behind the lyrics.
"Hey, did you find anything good at Amoeba?"
"Tons of these guys," he says, motioning towards the endless stream of pompadours.
We get through security and walk straight into the main room, passing the throng of bodies pulsating around the merchandise table. I've already bought what I want, having been to three of these Palladium shows. The stage looks the same as I remembered it and I feel a surge of adrenalin. I want to push my way to the front but I stick to his side, not sure what sort of a fan he is. Does he stand back and watch amidst the casual observers or does he throw himself in the front with arms outstretched, hoping for the graze of fingers?
We end up finding a spot near enough to the front to please me but far enough away to avoid the chaos during the final song. We talk about nothing as I stand beside him with my hands behind my back. His accent catches the attention of various people around us as he tells me about his first time seeing The Smiths and the last time he saw Morrissey during the Kill Uncle tour.
The concert is great. Better than the one before it and I am able to ignore the man beside me enough to enjoy the music without the constant nervousness that comes with standing next to an attractive man who looks at me the way he does. Every other song he looks over as if to make sure I'm enjoying myself and I smile. He sings along to the songs and we both become especially excited when Morrissey and the band break into a beautiful version of Stretch Out And Wait.
When the show ends we slowly move with the crowd towards the exits. He walks closely behind me and a girl from the crowd spots us and rushes over to thank him for saving her boyfriend from getting into a fight with another guy right next to us, something no one wants to happen while in the middle of a dense crowd. I found it amusing to watch as his professor skills broke out while he talked both sides down as the band played on and Morrissey whipped the microphone cord theatrically. The girl rambles about how she had gotten to the front and managed to grab Morrissey's hand and how she lost her glasses during the final song.
When we get outside the cool air hits me forcefully and I take a deep breath. I hadn't realized how hot I was and I immediately feel my shirt sticking to my back. I roll my shoulders as we walk out to the sidewalk. He insists upon walking me to my car even though I parked in a lot a few blocks up the hill while he parked only one block away. He insists though and I don't argue because I'm flattered. We talk about the show and our favorite songs. He tells me how pleased he was that Morrissey seems to still have it. It may change and morph but he adapts.
"Do you mind if I pay you back for the ticket later?" he asks while we wait to cross a street.
"Sure but I won't ever remind you," I say, knowing that there will never be a chance that I will ask him to pay me back. I feel uncomfortable asking people for money and unless I was completely broke I would never bring up the subject of his owing me fifty dollars.
He laughs and insists that he'll remember. I doubt it. His mind is scattered and I remember when I was in his class and he would forget constantly to grade papers. The majority of the work I did in his class I never saw again. I still got an A but I never knew what he liked. It didn't matter though. It wasn't that sort of class. After having been to his house and seeing his home office I knew that his forgetfulness was ingrained in every single bit of his life. We walk together through the lot and I wish I didn't have to drive home alone. I will stop and get some sort of caffeine for when the music high begins to taper off and gets replaced with fatigue.
"Call me when you get home," he says.
"You sure? I won't get home until at least a half hour after you do. It'll probably wake you up."
"Call me. It doesn't matter. I want to make sure you get home safely."
I agree and nod my head more times than necessary. We get to my dirty black car and I stand beside it, my keys dangling from my hand. I don't know what to do and I don't want to say goodbye. We make casual plans to see each other soon and he, like always, tells me to call him or stop by when I'm in his neighborhood. I've never told him that I have to make the effort to be in his neighborhood and I wish he would just make concrete plans.
I don't expect it when he pulls me against his chest, his arms wrapping around my shoulders. By the time I get my hands on his back, the hug is just about over. I didn't want a handshake but I didn't know we were in the hugging stage. We shared a handshake after seeing Sloane at the House of Blues in San Diego and that was strange for me. But I was still in his class so maybe he doesn't make a point of hugging students.
When I get home I call him and he sounds sleepy but we talk for a couple minutes anyway.
The reason for my next visit is to retrieve some CDs he borrowed from me. It's weeks later but the second I walk into his house I'm instantly comfortable as if I was here the day before. The house looks the same; the guest bathroom still being reconstructed as it has been since the first time I was here the summer before and he gave me the customary tour. His cats still love me and I pause to acknowledge them. I leave my shoes by the door and as expected, the two cats run to drape across them.
I sit beside him on his couch and focus on his footwear, the left slipper falling off. Life's A Riot With Spy VS Spy is playing and the music is comfortingly familiar. Music always seems to feel that way in his house, regardless of my previous opinion of it. He's wearing plaid pajama pants and my jeans are tight around my thighs. I wonder if he notices how wide they are and I think that he must.
"Do you write?" I ask, having wanted to ask him that question, even though I've always assumed the answer is yes. It's only an assumption but it is correct. He gets up and a minute later returns with a self-made spiral notebook. The cover is red and faded. The book is in my hand in seconds and I stare at the title. He proudly tells me which ones he's the most proud of, which ones he thinks I would like the most, and which ones he wishes he hadn't bothered with.
I open it and immediately begin reading.
"You're going to read it now?" he laughs.
"Why not? I'm here," I reason, looking away from his easy smile. I don't know what that smile means and I would never have the courage to ask. I've seen it before. It usually accompanies a certain feeling when we both stand in the foyer as I hesitantly prepare to leave.
"If you're going to read, do you mind if I get some work done?" he asks, standing in front of me, the coffee table now between us.
"Does it make you nervous? My reading your stuff in front of you?"
"No, not at all."
He disappears in his office and I begin reading in earnest. His cats make themselves comfortable, one on my lap and one on the couch arm that I'm leaning against. I mindlessly play with cat ears as I read. The writing is good but I wonder if I would like it if he hadn't written it. I'm too close to give an honest opinion.
I can hear him in the next room, shuffling papers and typing. The situation seems deeply domestic but it doesn't feel strange. I'm comfortable and content to be where I am even though I have no real reason to feel that way. My mind drifts and it takes effort to refocus on the words in front of me. The second story holds more interest for me. It's about a couple on the quest to find Orwell's home and it's subtly romantic and sexy. I delve into the story with a critical eye, intent on finding out whatever I can about his inner workings. Pure fiction doesn't exist and out of these sentences I am convinced I will know him.
When the CD ends he returns to change it. "Are you really going to read all of it?"
I nod, assuming he would make up an excuse if he wanted me to leave. He laughs softly and moves to stand beside me.
"You can push them off if they're bothering you," he says, playfully tugging on a cat ear, the one named after a British condiment, Marmite. The other cat, originally Hank, was stripped of his name after the divorce of his parents. He is now referred to as Cat.
"They're not bothering me."
After I've read six of the ten stories I begin to feel strange. I wonder what I will do once finished and if I finish I won't be able to borrow it and guarantee another visit. I push back into the corner of the couch and lean my head back against the cushion. I'm a little tired despite the time and I wonder what he would do if I fell asleep. He'd probably leave me be and let me sleep. I wish I was tired enough to fall asleep so I could see. He's quiet in his office.
I spend ten minutes wondering what to do and I finally decide to tell him that I'm going home. I don't want to but I also don't want to make him have to ask me to leave. I've been here for hours and he's working. It must feel strange for him to have an former student of his reading on his couch, his cats sleeping in her lap and her blue socks bright against the dull red of the couch.
I get up as quietly as possible, for some reason not wanting him to know I'm moving about until I'm in the doorway of his office. I take my empty water glass to the kitchen and leave it beside the sink. The hardwood floor creaks beneath my feet and I try the impossible feat of not putting any weight on it as I walk. He's already turned towards me when I get to the foyer to look in his office, his words safely tucked under my arm.
I hesitate at his expectant expression and wonder what he thinks I'm going to say. Before he can say anything I tell him that I'm going to leave because I almost fell asleep on his couch and I doubt he'd want that to happen. It's a lie but I feel like I should have a reason. He quickly moves to stand with me and asks me how I liked his stories. We talk about them for a while and I know the topic is getting stretched thin.
We stand in the foyer, both without shoes, and I'm nervous. He looks at me with that expression I don't understand and the minutes drag by without either one of us making a definite move towards separation. We keep finding topics to bring up, whether they be an upcoming concert or a book.
When the door has finally been opened and my shoes are on my feet, stories in hand, I walk to my car. He again reminds me to come by whenever I'm in the area. He stays on the porch and now with the car between us I smile widely and agree even though I would never stop by without a reason.
With the distance I am finally able to maintain eye contact.
I purposefully put myself in his area so I could call him to return his stories. Even though I read them all the day I got home from his place, I waited a week before calling him. He's home but tells me that he will be leaving in ten minutes. He has a meeting with a former student about something involving his reference. I drive slowly and tell him it's not a problem, that I can catch him another time. He tells me to come by anyway and if he's not home I can slip it inside his mailbox. I agree because I can't think of a reason not to. Other than the truth of course, which is embarrassing. The truth being that I don't want to miss him because I wouldn't be able to establish another reason to stop by.
Even though I don't want to miss him, I drive slowly and it takes me almost twenty minutes to pull into his driveway. His car is still there but I assume he's not home, that he got picked up. I don't bother pulling all the way into the driveway, leaving the tail end of my car sticking out over the sidewalk.
The front door swings open before I get to the mailbox on the side of the house. He's still here. It's been far more than ten minutes but he's still here. I don't ask why, I'm just happy that he stuck around to wait for me.
"You're here," he smiles. "Pull your car up, would you? You can't leave it in the road like that."
I don't know what to say so I mutely return to my car. I feel like a child who has been reprimanded and I don't like it. My car isn't even in the road and if he hadn't already disappeared into the house I would have mocked his comment. I start my car and pull up right behind his small black sports car. I never notice what kind it is, only knowing it from the small Union Jack sticker to the left of the dirty license plate. I remember when we drove to see Sloane and the passenger window was busted. We weren't able to speak while on the freeway because the wind drowned out all sound. I remember feeling like a giant in the car and being amazed with how he seemed to effortlessly fold himself into it.
The front door was left open so I invite myself in. He appears beside me and immediately starts into my opinion on his writing. He's thrilled with the ones I liked best, saying that they are his own personal favorites. I don't tell him that, while entertaining, I would never buy his stuff in a bookstore.
His office is a mess and I like the disarray. I lean against his desk while he searches through the mess of paperwork and miscellaneous objects for an old mix CD he made of a band he thinks I'll like. I wander about his office as he looks and we talk. I look through his movies, running my hand over boxes that he still hasn't unpacked since moving in three years ago. I pick up the occasional object to study while keeping most of my attention on the conversation.
The phone rings and he stands, saying he has to go, that it's probably the student wondering where he is. The machine picks up and at the sound of a woman's voice, he sits back down in the chair at his desk and goes back to looking, saying it's just his ex-wife. He pays little attention to the message so I don't have to hide my interest. The woman makes plans to have lunch with him but she keeps it short.
"Am I ever going to be able to read something of yours?" he asks, spinning around suddenly with a CD in hand. "Found it."
"I doubt it," I say, holding my hand out. He puts it in an empty case before handing it over.
He doesn't push but makes sure to stress that he'd like to read anything I have written.
"I wished you had decided to write that story for class, only Jack wrote one and I was disappointed that no one else took on the assignment."
"I thought about it but it wouldn't have been any good. I don't know how to write science fiction," I say even though I know that I probably could write science fiction. Technically, it's anything that hasn't happened yet. There wouldn't have to be aliens and flying cars.
"You would have been fine. Your papers were always great."
I thank him and promise him that if I ever write something that I like, he'll be the first to read it. I don't see that happening but I wish it would. I can easily imagine his reaction to my brilliant literary wit and I know that when I try to sleep tonight I will be playing the scene out in my head, as I do with all possible scenes in my life.
Somehow the topic of drinking is brought up and I think he must have forgotten about my liver disease. I remember telling him that I had one while we were walking to the House of Blues from where he parked. He had asked if I was planning on drinking something and if I minded if he did. I told him I didn't mind at all if he drank. He never did visit the bar though and I had hoped he would. It may have loosened him up and in turn loosened me up.
I don't tell him again that I don't drink much because of my liver. I tell him that I have a soft spot for margarita's and that if I were going to drink, I would probably choose that. I have a limited knowledge of various alcohol but I know I like margarita's.
"I happen to make great margarita's, perfect ones. You'll have to come by one of these nights and I'll make us some." His cell phone rings and it's his student. He apologizes to her and promises to be there soon.
It still takes us another ten minutes to leave the house.
A semester passes before I talk with him again. I feel completely fine with calling him randomly and do so while meandering through a book store. Even though I don't mind calling him after not having spoken with him in months, it still takes me much too long for my liking to press the send button. He doesn't answer so I leave a stilted message asking him to call me back, leaving my number just in case he no longer has it. He never called first anyhow.
My reason for calling is that he speaks fluent French and I finally enrolled in French II and am terrified of making a fool of myself. It's been years since I took French I and I don't even know how I got a B in the class. I didn't feel like I deserved it at all. My first thought upon enrolling was to call and ask if he would be willing to help me out. He's the only person I know that speaks it fluently. My friend Meg has taken three years of the language but when I mentioned my enrolling in the class finally, her first reaction was, "Don't ask me for help. I suck at it."
His call comes the next day while I'm driving home from a pointless visit to the mall. He announces himself just as he always did when I answer, saying my name in greeting and telling me who he is. I tell him that he doesn't need to clarify who he is, I recognize his voice. I don't tell him that he's been in my contact's list since we first traded numbers.
"What can I do ya for?" he asks happily after we are finished trading pleasantries.
"You speak French and you're the only person I know that does. Well, my Tiko Ratibor must cause he speaks everything but he had a stroke so his language suffered a bit but I don't see him much anyway. I need French II to graduate and I've put it off for so long that I hardly remember anything except introductions and random bits and I really want to do well. So, would you be willing to help me out with it if I get horribly lost?"
I could have phrased the question in a much simpler manner but he didn't interrupt me and when that happens I tend to ramble until my brain kicks me in the shin and the words stop.
He doesn't laugh but when he speaks I feel like he's on the verge. "Have you thought about getting a tutor? Someone who can help you on a schedule? You can get one through the school."
"Yeah, but I was hoping to find someone willing to do it for free and I wouldn't need every week, I don't think. Maybe just before big tests and whatnot. I know you'll probably be busy with your own classes so it's no big deal if you can't do it or just don't want to."
"The time isn't a problem. I could always find that. Just as long as you're okay with a slapdash schedule, I'd be glad to help you. How about you stop by this weekend and we can see what you remember?"
My smile is so large that the lines of my caps can probably be easily seen. I take a breath before thanking him and we set a time up. I spend the rest of the drive home going over everything that was said and being completely happy with the results. I won't have to come up with an excuse to see him anymore and that alone is enough to make me smile like an idiot.