You lose your love when you say the word 'mine'
Neil Young, "Love Is a Rose," Decade, 1977
"Annie," called a voice from the parking lot wilderness. "Hey, Annie."
She was surprised enough not to respond at first. She had been so busy reinventing herself that she was sure she was invisible. After all, if she was living at the edge of her own perceptions, how distant and vague she must be to anyone else's. Somehow, she missed the realization that you can be peripheral to yourself and simultaneously central to another (love, they call it, meaning obsession). Not to mention the primary truth of game-playing flirts forever (aiming to spark obsession as kindling for love, or lust at least): abstinence makes the hearth glow under.
"Hey, Annie. Jeez, you going deaf in your old age?"
Finally she admitted the call was for her, and turned with a holy vacancy in her eye. This guy about her age, she guessed, was trotting in her direction, purple needle-cord shirt flapping outside standard-issue Levi's. He was breathing hard from the contradictory effort of yelling and rushing, but smiling away the sting in his words. Actually, if he had shaved in the last couple of days, he'd have been quite cute.
"Brendan!" she laughed like a silly kitty who's been caught falling off the back of a chair. "When did you get here?"
"Am I here yet?" he panted back, coming to a rest close enough for a G-rated kiss of presumption and promise, more than friendship and less than passion.
Enough? she wondered, and answered herself: No. Actually he was rather inconvenient just at the moment, and maybe she could slough him off for a bit. Then she realized this was cruel and tamped it down (without actually stamping it out). So she hugged him.
He didn't quite know what to do about that. Brendan wasn't much of a hugger and, in his experience, nor was Annie, which showed how much he knew, and her too. It felt good, though, and he joined in with surprised enthusiasm.
"So how's it going?" he asked meaninglessly as they slid softly apart.
"Fine," she responded in the same dialect.
She took his hand (held hands!?) and led him away from the kerfuffle, which seemed to have much of his interest, and towards the front of the building where 'her' banner was.
"There's going to be live TV in half an hour," she explained, "But my job's been holding up half this sign over here."
He grunted, half-smiling vaguely. She seemed ... different somehow. Not as ready to let him do the defining or something. It was odd, but not necessarily bad. Brendan really wasn't much of an introvert fill 'er up was his usual attitude to the brain but he could sense at least that sensing was on the agenda. He just tended to think about it too much.
Annie wasn't thinking about thinking at all. Suzie was still holding up an end but her anonymous partner- paramour- posslq- patron- peer- posy- pal- pippin- puppet- poppet- perhaps-she-was- and- perhaps-she-wasn't (Annie was not being verbal at that moment, but her imagery was along these lines) had laid her burden down and was collapsed on the grass with a number of others. Annie wandered over to them, unselfconsciously dragging along the somewhat self-conscious Brendan. She smiled at the group who looked up at her in a friendly kind of way.
"Channel Ten's setting up for a live broadcast," she announced.
"Eleven," corrected Brendan, but gently.
"Eleven, OK," she admitted, "We don't watch TV so I get confused." This drew a sympathetic, almost silent, rustle of support that she was grateful for and that drowned out in her mind the awareness of that little 'we' she had snuck in there almost without noticing. (Brendan had heard and rather liked it but kept quiet for now.) "Anyway, they're going to be on at five, so we probably want to get over there then."
"What time is it?" asked someone sensibly. There was considerable blankness, as it turned out that none of those present was wearing a watch. They called for help to another cluster.
"Four twenty-seven," volunteered some guy with a digital watch, "Approximately," which won him some good-natured laughter. "Why?"
Someone who knew him started to explain, and the word began to ripple along the grass like a flame spreading through sun-baked brush that hadn't been cleared. They were all ready to do something anything, almost it had been a lovely afternoon but their attention spans were pushing the limit. It was typical that TV, having decimated the powers of concentration of the Youth of Today, should so neatly come to the rescue.
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Annie wanted to be a star (but anonymous); and she wanted to be a lover (but independent); and she wanted to be a daredevil (but safe); and she wanted to do her duty (but enjoy it); and she wanted to be alone (no she didn't); and that left the problem of Brendan. Maintaining a firm grasp on his right hand, she led them (really, quite in charge) across the grass to the 'BRING THE TROOPS HOME ALIVE' banner that Suzie and some new guy in denims, more like Annie's age, with a long black pony-tail, were displaying to the passing cars.
"I'll take over again," she offered brightly, mostly at Suzie who was nearer.
The standard-bearers looked at each other in silent colloquy. The merest quiver of an eyebrow from the far end presented the offer and after a tactful moment it was gratefully accepted.
"OK, thanks," replied Suzie brightly, handing over and bouncing off to the gaggle across the lawn.
"Pretty girl," commented frank, being unusually Brendan.
"Don't get your hopes up," countered Annie pleasantly, "I'm pretty sure she's hooked up with the woman in the Pendleton shirt."
"Nothing personal," he hastened to add, "But aren't they all bi nowadays?"
"Ducky, I never thought."
"Oh shut up."
Finding his hands free, he jammed them into his jeans and stood in front of her, rocking back and forth like some kind of demented gnome.
"I could probably pick up some chains at OSH on the way home."
"Yeah, yeah, just kidding."
At the other end, the tall, dark stranger was standing stonefaced as though he couldn't hear. His very stillness was intruding on their chit-chat, which was falling apart into the kind of self-conscious rôle-play that (Annie was beginning to understand) drove them both up the wall. Could they communicate in public? Why should it make any difference, privacy didn't seem to help.
"So, you going to stick around then?" inquired Brendan reasonably.
"Yeah, I guess," she prevaricated. (What the hell does it look like?) "What about you?"
"Really can't. I've still got to do the whole final layout."
Annie was vague about the details of his job, but she had observed from long experience that once he got his head inside the computer it bid fair to stay there for hours at a time, and he had warned her that this was deadline week. To be accurate, she'd counted on it but she wasn't quite admitting as much, not even in her interior monologue, at least not yet. She tsk'ed or tut'ed in autonomic dental sympathy.
"It's either get up at dawn or do a bunch more tonight," he continued.
Annie wasn't paying much attention anymore. The brief moment of power and strangeness had wafted away and she was back in a familiar land of ritual, where Brendan rabbitted on and she didn't interrupt. Actually she was much more interested in the guy at the other end of the standard they bore, as rigid as a Marine but far more intriguing. Kaw-liga, she thought, Hank Williams' wooden Indian, and she put that away as potentially racist (or was it? Hank wouldn't tell, buried forever in his tower of song) but Lige seemed to stick as a name. She needed a peg to hang him on. Wasn't that a robot? Brendan would know, but she wouldn't ask, I mean really, not now. Yes, nearly, Lije for Elijah, that was it, an SF book she'd read in desperation in Thailand when it rained and there was nothing else left. She would find out, she supposed, sometime soon, but Lige with a gee would do for now. Kaw-liga fell in love, anyway, he was a romantic and really far more sympathetic than that awful Pinnochio with his lying nose. The nose knows. Her own was bobbing gently (it should have been growing) as though she were listening to the explanation of all the problems that beset poor Brendan this week and put his schedule so far behind.
"Anyway, I think I've got it sorted out now," he summed up, "I just have to put it all together."
"I'll feel better if I do it tonight. I was on the way to Aptos to pick up some stuff at the Post when I thought I'd swing by, see if you were still here."
She grinned. "Still here."
Just a peck really.
A step back.