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In the Middle
hitwithfists
Title: In the Middle
Rating: PG
Summary: I'm the leader of the free world, and four years ago today my current boyfriend punched me in the face at a construction site where I was volunteering. This morning I'm sitting across the table watching him squint at the newspaper.

Originally written as a companion to Among the Trees, by muzivitch and glasspyramids, but I think (hope) it stands on its own.



All right already!
I'm just a nogoodnik.
All right already, it's true.
So nu?
So sue me, sue me,
Shoot bullets through me,
I love you!
- Frank Loesser


I'm the leader of the free world, and four years ago today my current boyfriend punched me in the face at a construction site where I was volunteering. This morning I'm sitting across the table watching him squint at the newspaper, even though I could tell him the state of the world up to the moment for free.

Dan likes some things to be kept ordinary. That's all right with me as long as I stay one of them.

Four years ago today was the first time he sat me down, told me I looked haggard, and told me to eat something. (Then he stayed there until I agreed to do so.) I suppose that makes it our anniversary, considering that the act of telling me to eat is nearly as important to Dan as the act of fellatio.

I tell him his glasses are on top of my dresser. He grunts and squints closer to a review of one of the lesser Wagners. (I saw it in previews; it wasn't worth the ticket price.) I go to find Tara and feed her breakfast.

Tara is our cat. We have a cat. I'm practically The Beloved Leader; he owns a diner; four years ago I caused the death of his best friend, to say nothing of what else I did, which I'm not at liberty to tell you; now we have a cat. I have said many things about the world -- that it is hard, that it is filled with angry and dangerous humans, that I love it, that it is frightening, that it is beautiful -- but I have never meant it more than now when I tell you that the world is strange.

Dan makes more coffee; I take a phone call and barely concentrate on it. I don't need to. I stare absently at our laser disc collection, piled on top of the television. (Transfomers: The Movie and Casablanca are his, The Man Who Laughs, Stephen Sondheim's Passion at the Lincoln Center, and The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari are mine.)

Tara's meowing and I realize that I forgot about her breakfast when the phone rang. I forget things now. Dan has made me soft and easy -- or at least my definition of soft and easy -- and not all of that is good.

There are times when I consider leaving him, when someone has blown himself up in Baghdad and taken a bus full of children with him, and I feel my circlet on my head and the evening thins and seems to need me. then he hums the score of Guys and Dolls and tell me he's selfish and he needs me more, and I know I will not leave.

Besides, he lives in my apartment, which would make leaving him difficult. "Tower," he'd say. Fine, it's a tower. But I only occupy -- we only occupy -- one floor.

I'm thinking of the nights when I feel the world's yowling need when I hear Dan murmur something soothing to Tara. He's feeding her.

"Shh, Leo, it's going. . .yeah, here you go. . ." A thump of cat food. "There you go, kid. Good kitty, Leo."

"Dan," I call from the living room, "Don't call her Leo; you'll give her a complex. Veidt Enterprises is all for diversity, but even I don't have the time and patience for a transsexual cat."

He emerges, glasses on now, and hands me a cup of coffee. (No sugar, half a teaspoon milk -- he's known this since 1971 and I have no idea how.) "You named our cat Leontopolis, Adrian."

"I named her Taremu," I say blandly. "The Romans would call her Leontopolis."

He kisses me, and I'm used enough to that by now that I stop after a moment to stare at his tie. I'm about to say something -- it's entirely the wrong bronze, not that there's really a right bronze when it comes to metallic ties, which are an intrinsically flawed premise -- but I decide to spare his feelings, and I kiss him again.

He pulls away, grinning. "Different tie?" he asks.

I love this man.

He's turning away into the bedroom, but I see the right tie crumpled heedlessly on our couch, and I toss it at the back of his head.

He catches it in one hand without looking.

I love this man.

.


I'm sitting in a diner in a rebuilt part of New York City and the entire clientele is staring at me. They must not be Dan's regulars, which wouldn't be unusual these days. Archie's is getting trendy, and Dan is getting stressed, and I am sitting here with three executives and some rigatoni and asking them to concentrate, please.

It's a lost cause. The food is too good and the stares are too distracting. Dan gives me a pained smile through the servers' window and I return it. I'm harder to ruffle than ever these days, though.

I don't even know what these people do for a living, and I really should, we're in a meeting. No, wait, I do -- they sell organic paper towels. How nice for them. I wave them off, smiling, and go into the kitchens to kidnap a superhero.

Well, I'm an effeminate homosexual. I wear purple. I maintain a fortress in Antarctica with a pretentious name and a wall of television sets. I used to own a bizarre genetically engineered animal, whom I often petted while "scheming." (Rest her soul.) Once, I did something horrible, the nature and sheer magnitude of which I still cannot tell you. Isn't superhero kidnapping what you expect from people like me?

.


We're in the park and Dan's collapsed onto a bench. "And then," he says, "the entire fucking lunch order gets redone, and I can't goddamn well -- huh. Suffice to say Maria got fired. How was your day?"

"Somewhere in the city," I say, sitting next to him and crossing my legs, "are some very pleased organic paper towel manufacturers. They're one of your suppliers now, by the way." ("Gee, thanks," he mutters, but he's smiling.) "Strom Thurmond may never shut up about us on Bill O'Reilly. I think it's that you're Jewish. The situation in Iran got better; the situation in Cuba got worse. I testified to Congress, and same sex marriage will most likely be legal in three years or so. The spotted owl conservatory ran into problems, but I think we'll get a yes eventually." ("You always do," he says.) "And VMN has finally stopped running those insufferable Nostalgia ads. Finally."

Four years ago, I destroyed myself.

Now he says, "what was that third from last news item?"

"Cuba? Thurmond?"

"You're a good counter, Adrian. You know I mean you testifying to Congress. Congratulations by the way. But what was it about?"

I tell him I never repeat myself.

He tells me I've told him that before.

Then he looks like he's going to say something else, but he doesn't. We're holding hands -- I realize suddenly we have been this whole time -- and he's playing with my left third finger.

Four years ago, this park exploded from the center out. The swing set still hasn't been restored, but people are walking on the pathways. They aren't afraid, but I am. I share a bookshelf with this man. (The Lovecraft is mine; the K. Dick is his. The Wiesel is mine; the Updike is his, and I gave him the Catullus.) Tara is our cat. I always know where his glasses are. He hates the way I roll my eyes at the evening news when I already know it (which is always), and he's told me so. Yesterday, I testified to Congress on the subject of same sex marriage and VeidtTrust insurance policy.

Now he's playing with my left third finger, and looking in his breast pocket, presumably for his glasses case, but I know it's in his jacket. I'm about to tell him so when he says, "Three years or so, huh?" and begins to whistle "Adelaide's Lament" from Guys and Dolls.
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Adrian's voice here is excellent.

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