"Oh, hi!" He said in that way that people do when they've found someone they haven't seen in a long time. It's the same tone of voice one often uses when talking to rediscovered keychains or lost scraps of paper while on hands and knees, feeling under couches and mattresses. It wasn't urgent or happy, but it was pleasant. He was outgoing. He was always a little bit more outgoing than the other ones, even though he was strange looking. The greeting was made all the better by his ridiculous voice-- he really did have the most bizarre voice, and it would probably make him some sort of star one day, like Peter Lorre or Vincent Price. They had usually cast him in those kinds of roles in the theatre productions because he pulled it off so well. He was always the most memorable part, and usually all because of that funny, fog-horn voice; a bit high but not effeminate, scratchy but not Tom Waits. It wasn't laughable, but it was the sort of sound that stuck with you for a long time, the kind that simply belonged behind a mic somewhere.
The music festival was surprisingly corporate. It seemed as though one couldn't find a view that wasn't decorated by promotions. The sponsors were clearly excited by the chance to appear cool to the alternative internet kids, and the vendors were all manned by young people with piercings and funny outfits. The only beer available for under ten dollars was Heineken, and as a result there were about twenty designated men in uniform on hand just to pick up the green bottles. However, one such bottle, broken into shards and stomped into the grass, had escaped attention for many hours until Marley stepped on it. Marley had never been particularly attractive, but all of her young adult acquaintances would remember her by the ghastly face that Marley gave birth to as a tiny pain entered her foot that afternoon. Later, a picture of her agonized moment would surface online, and, though few of them knew it, that would be the last most of them would see Marley.
As an new-to-the-scene, sharp-edged band from San Francisco began their set, Marley waved at her group with an "I'm okay, carry on" thumbs-up gesture and hobbled away near the unpopular cotton-candy vendor where she stretched out on a clean, sacred patch of land and crooked her ankle as close to her face as she could get, squinting one eye so she could get a look at the tiny piece that was causing all of this commotion. That's when she heard the Peter-Vincent voice saying "Oh, hi!" and her already knit browline came closer together. She looked over in the direction of the nacho-booth, and there the voice stood personified. Marley was overcome with the urge to dig a hole into the side of the cotton candy cart and disappear, but she responded anyway. "Hi!"
As soon as she had responded she could see in his eyes that assessing moment-- he had said hello because he had finished off three or so beers-- he was not tipsy yet, but definitely happy to be alive-- and he had recognized her but hadn't let himself realize who she was. If it were anywhere else, he would have recognized her only in passing, in his head, because he knew that they didn't talk. They never had. Now was the moment where they both realized that. "How's life after graduation goin' for you?" He changed gears effortlessly. Marley smiled. She had a very whole smile that he had never noticed before. Probably because she never smiled at school. When she smiled she looked more like a girl, like someone who at least didn't mind being alive. She was always so aware of herself when he had known her, she never could bear to let people think that she didn't know that she had no right to be in the presence of beautiful people, or theatre people, or funny people, or the well-funded students that made up most of the student body. She had been painful to watch, like an animal with a cut on its face, constantly pawing at its own eyes and hiding from view. Now that he looked at her, though, he couldn't really understand why.
"It's not going anywhere, honestly. Less work and more things to pay, you know?" She spoke in a slightly raised voice as the band played on. He nodded knowingly at the typical response. "What about you?" He laughed. He probably wouldn't have if the situation weren't so strange. "I intern at a radio station in LA. And I do some theatre work. It's fun." They nodded in unison now, like overly polite bobble-heads. She was waiting for him to leave, despite the joy that his B-movie villain voice brought her. He sighed dramatically, giving a disdainful look at the band. Its lead vocalist was stumbling around, tipping her microphone closer to the other members in the band in an effort to get them to cover for her weak performance. "I'll tell you, though," Marley's companion said after a moment of thought. "I'm getting a bald spot." Marley snorted in surprise. "Are you?" He pressed his lips together so that they formed a perfect line across his scruffy face. "Oh yes, it's no laughing matter. Observe." He began to turn slowly in synch to the music and tilted sideways so that Marley could see what indeed looked like the start of a spot on the back of his head. She reached out to poke it with her finger but then withdrew, thinking better. "No, it's okay," he said, sounding resigned. "I've always dug the hairless cat look." Marley noticed that his eyes were large and angular enough to give him the feline look. "I think you could rock it," she said, sincerely. "And I'm going grey anyway." This seemed to light a lantern of joy in his head. "Really?"" he asked, a little too interested. Marley drew her foot closer to her once more. "Well, yeah. That's not fair though, it's been happening since freshman year." Like a marionette, the boy sidestepped closer. "Yes, but now I have to see it. Fair's fair..." He leaned over her head as she tried to shield herself. "Does it come in streaks or strands?" She sighed beneath the weight of her arm over her face. "Strands. All just coming out at the part." He coughed with subtle demand. "Oh, come come now." She let her hand slip over her scalp and her peered over it. "Oh my, you weren't kidding. There's quite a few of them there, isn't there? You're practically a granny." The way he said the word "granny" sounded like a joke all it's own, and Marley couldn't help but laugh. He could not remember seeing her laugh before, not even during rehearsals when the field mouse had snuck in and chased the assistant director around.
"You want to know something funny?" Marley was looking up at him in a way that made him self conscious of his weak chin. He crossed his arms and rested his head on his palm. "Hm?" "Well.. other than that pose you're making right now... About a year ago I found your website." He raised his eyebrows. "My music blog?" She jerked her head to the music in agreement. "Yeah, I really like it. I downloaded almost every song you put on there. I didn't know it was yours for a long time. Just didn't put two and two together, I guess," she offered, then continued. "I remember hearing you on that radio program you guys did sometimes.. You were really funny." His response to this came out painfully rehearsed, as he raised his voice over the cheering from the crowd. "Oh, you liked that?" "Yeah." "That's cool." She chewed on her upper lip with anxiety. It must have been the wrong thing to say.
Knowing he would eventually dismiss himself, Marley returned to her foot which had been nearly forgotten in all of the excitement. It was only a small piece, but it had burrowed into a spot that was hard to reach. Just as she tried to angle it correctly, she felt the terrain shift as he sat down in front of her, grabbed her dirty foot--now wet because of the freshly watered grass-- and zeroed in on the green glass. Without a word he pushed on the skin with his thumb and gingerly removed the blood-stained culprit with his other hand, presenting it triumphantly. "There." As if on cue, the band finished their short set and the crowd cheered crazily; his face tightened with smugness, but the girl with the hole in her foot felt speechless.
"Was that not okay? Are you OCD about that kind of thing?" He asked, warily, as Marley remained quiet. She shook her head and managed a sideways grin. "No, that's fine. Thank you, I probably would have spent a long time trying to get at that." She curled her foot back towards herself, avoiding eye contact. The band said goodbye and the geography of the crowd began to shift. "What happened freshman year?" He asked, looking at her as he imagined an iceberg would look at a ship. She looked even more startled. "What? Why do you ask that?" He pointed to the top of her head. "You said this started freshman year. What happened?" Marley blinked as another stage in the distance flared its lights as a signal for the start of another show. She looked like a cornered rodent. "I don't know," she said, almost inaudibly, not sure if it happened to be true or not. Slowly, she braced herself and began to get up, and he followed her example. Marley could see the nacho stand from over his shoulder, and briefly recognized the nameless graduates that used to litter the theatre-building halls. "Well..." she started to say, in a conclusive way, but stopped as she noticed him looking down at the little bit of blood on his foot-helping hand. "Oh no," she gasped and her fingers flew into her oversized bag to find stray napkins. "That's so disgusting, I'm sorry." He laughed his fog-horn laugh. "No, I kinda like it," he admitted, holding his hand up to the light in order to admire the crimson stains. He laughed again at the sight, then rolled his eyes towards Marley as she held out a brown, tree-saving napkin from a local coffee shop.
"You don't have AIDs, do you?" he asked, his looney-toons voice dripping with self-aware cliche as he dabbed away the blood. Marley replied weakly, but with a smile in her tone. "No, no. Just the grey hair."