“If you’re afraid of becoming unhinged, don’t worry.” She folded her arms and floated down from a background of distant stars to come to a halt in front of me in deep space. “It won’t happen.”

“Hey,” I said, taking in her long-sleeved checkered red shirt and enjoying the feeling of suspended gravity before remembering what this was about. I cast my eyes downward uncomfortably at the actuality of the fact. “Did it hurt?” Soft and comfortable.

She kept her usually friendly expression stern. “Not as much as it did for you.”

I was reminded that sins committed went much deeper than wrongs received—in feeling, depth and resolution. “So,” she paused, surveying the nails on one hand. “Will you?”

“Not for me,” she corrected, with an unusual seriousness in her eyes as she lowered both arms to her sides. “But for us both.

“Before this,” I said pensively, knowing exactly what she meant, “there would have been no way.”

“But now…I’m not sure.” Things we owe.

“Things are fair between us,” she said, her tone hard, but not overly harsh. “More or less. But there is no place for weakness at this juncture.”

“You must play every game.” I was reminded of the deceptive fancy of the roulette wheel, spinning in wild abandon, and the measured precision of every blackjack hand, and knew which it was I had to play.

“You have done almost everything else.” Things to overcome.

“To a casual observer…” I trailed off, “it would make no sense.”

“Nor would it seem fair.”

She dismissed this with an uncharacteristically commanding wave of the hand. “Finish what you started.”

And then I understood. “This is what you’re like when”—I swallowed—“something you love is violated.”

Her eyes were unyielding for a moment in time. “Fine,” I conceded, raising my left hand, palm up.

Waves like transparent, invisible water began to undulate and multidimensional color seeped in through the crevices between peaks and troughs until the top of several heads became visible in a swirling distortion not unlike the gravitational lensing observed at either end of a traversable wormhole.

“Time,” she declared, looking pointedly at me, “and space.”

“I’ve never taken anyone with me.”

“So learn.” Who says you don’t have a built-in pensieve?

I bent my head until it was almost superimposed with the appropriate one, and focused on both our presences until our perspectives became one.

“Lauren!” a woman shouted from the bar on the right, waving something urgently. “You forgot your jacket.”

“I’ll get it,” said the friend walking beside me, and she swerved off the main road to pick my leather jacket from the waitress’ hands.

“Here,” she said, handing it to me. “You’re only careless when you’re drunk.”

“Tipsy,” I disagreed, trying to keep my feet walking in a straight line. “I don’t get drunk.”

It was a dark autumn night and the air was cool, but comfortable, and a few pale white clouds looked down from above as our feet clicked on an uneven road surface. There was no traffic at this hour owing to the secluded nature of the area, and we made a familiar turn into a dark, deserted alley on the left where the car was parked.

I threw my jacket at my friend and fumbled in my pocket for the keys.

A shadow flitted across the side and a strong pressure squeezed my cheeks. Two hands, unusually callused but not possessive, held my face as lips descended on my own before I could resist. It was dark, but I felt their passion even though I could not clearly identify the figure. I stepped back and drew my gun from its holster in a practiced motion and pointed it at the attacker, trigger discipline preventing the immediate discharge of a bullet.

“Who—” I had intended to ask the name of my assailant in a calm, composed manner, but then I saw they were wearing a skirt. My skin burned and my blood boiled. Hatred clouded my vision and quickened my pulse. Who was this woman to turn me homosexual? I didn’t think that this might be an overreaction, and I didn’t wait for anyone else’s opinion. In that moment, it didn’t care what excuse they might have had, or who they were. If I had bothered to exercise my usual judgment, maybe things would have been different.

There are things you do not see.

With practiced aim, I released fear, frustration, anger and hatred in a lead projectile whose aim was true. It found the right shoulder of my attacker and surprise combined with stopping power had the added effect of knocking her to the ground. She screamed once, almost the sound of a lover wronged as the smell of gunpowder rose in the air, and a shell fell to the ground. I stood there, stunned, but shaking with rage. I didn’t clear the scene, as I normally would, or check the now-victim. I was speechless—I didn’t know if I wanted her to die or disappear, just that I wanted to unwrite everything that had just happened. You see, I was proper in every way—a model citizen, a paragon of justice, you name it. But somehow deep within I was afraid it was all a show that could be undone by a single “unforgivable” act. To me, then, this was the worst thing in the world.

A pool of blood had gathered by the time my untrained friend prised the still-warm weapon from my hands. Maybe it was the times, or character, but what she did next surprised even me.

“Stupid gay!” she yelled, and with an accuracy that should have eluded the best marksman, emptied another round into the fallen women right next to mine.

By now, I was beginning to regain my senses, and remember who I was and what we did. “Stop,” I commanded, pulling the gun from her grasp and pointing it downward, as the safety went back on. “We don’t want to kill her.”

I thought swallowing my feelings was the worst thing I had ever had to do. Until, with shaking fingers, I undid the mask.

“Alexis!” I yelled in horror. I didn’t know whose face was paler—hers, from blood loss, or mine from shock. “W-why?”

How do you feel now?

There was a lot of blood, but she was adamant we leave a trail of evidence to exonerate me.

She committed perjury on the stand to keep me from prosecution.

And kept the details of her injury private, so I could focus on the proceedings.

I guess she took responsibility for initiating something I didn’t want and provoking a reaction neither of us was prepared for.

I wanted to stay friends, but over time her independence, unspoken dignity and presence of mind made me really wonder if this wasn’t something I wanted.

Despite the overtures, the final move was always left to me. I think that was the clincher—that I could have walked away.

So one quiet night as fall turned to winter, I went to her.

My vision was black as we drew our heads out of the past and returned to space, coming to stand once again among the stars. “You were honest,” she said, and I could see that the hardness in her eyes had been replaced by a vaguely radiant beaming. “I appreciate that.”

I attempted to brush it off by shrugging my shoulders. “I think you earned it.”

“You know,” she suggested somewhat bemusedly, making a rotating motion in the air with her hand, “you aren’t very lasso-able. I’ll give you that.”

“How do you mean?”

“If anyone tries to maneuver you, it doesn’t work. But,” she continued, making a building motion in front of her with both hands, “if there’s a complex structure that needs solving, you’ll follow the rope all the way to its creator.”

“Admit it, I intrigue you.”

“That was a long time ago,” I said neutrally. “We’re different people now.”

“Some things change; some things don’t,” she teased. “When it’s time”—an orbiting planet became visible somewhere in the distance as it entered a new phase of rotation—

“You’ll come to me.”


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