Nine Moments In The Life Of An Artist
by Amy

"The girl, Poly O'Keefe, just growing out of gawkiness, reminded him of his pupil, despite Emily's black hair and Poly's flame. But they were more or less of an age, moving into adulthood with a kind of steel-spring stubbornness and an otherworldly innocence..."
--Madeleine L'Engle, "Dragons in the Waters", 116-117

"Those who dance are considered insane by those who cannot hear the music."
--George Carlin


I take a sip of the coffee that Aunt Lucy made. It's perfect coffee, just weak enough to be drunk black without being overpowering. Aunt Lucy always says it's incredibly strong, though, and she empties spoonful after spoonful of sugar into her coffee. Agreeing that it's awfully strong is an easy way to get on her good side. Not that Lucy really has a bad side; she's incredibly sweet and generous, especially letting two of us stay here for free while only giving one up. But a good houseguest, we were always told, makes the host feel wonderful. So I comment on how much I like really strong coffee.

Charles has foregone the whole routine by preparing iced tea on his own. Uncle Dennys smiles at him gratefully; September is really still too hot for coffee, black or otherwise. But Aunt Lucy drinks coffee year-round, and the caffeine helps me focus. Homework in high school was boring and methodical; here, I have to actually think, often late into the night. Charles says it's like that at most places; I've been spoiled, first being taught at my own pace by Mother and Daddy and then with the illiterate masses at Cowpertown High and then by my grandparents. But here I find myself up studying by flashlight until well after even Charles has fallen asleep.

My scholarship here is generous, more than we ever could have asked for. Everyone knows Charles is brilliant enough to get a huge scholarship, and Xan will get one for sports if not for academics, but I never expected one this nice for myself. I have full tuition here, and it's a good school- not a cheap one, either. But full tuition doesn't cover room and board, even with all the work study hours I put in, and so Dennys and Lucy offered to let me stay with them.

With all the family we have, we could have found enough for me to live on-campus. My grandparents have more than enough for themselves, for instance, and I overheard Dennys offering help to my mother if she wanted. But Dennys has Kate to worry about, and there are six more O'Keefes on the way, some of whom might need the money Sandy and Rhea have stored for a rainy day more than I do. Mother and Daddy are dead against Mother's parents using what they refer to as their "retirement fund" for us, even though I've never seen either grandparent even consider giving up on their work.

I don't remember ever meeting Daddy's parents. He says they're not worth knowing, and after a while even Charles and I stopped asking.

My staying with family, thus making school free except for textbooks and household chores, was too good an offer to pass up. So Charles and I sleep in what used to be Kate's room, two narrow beds shoved against opposite walls, and in a lot of ways I feel more at home than I ever did back on Benne Seed Island.

I was so used to the international lifestyle when I was younger. We lived by Portugal, and we traveled a lot. The one thing I never worried about was being homesick or lonely. I didn't realize that part of homesick isn't just missing the house, but missing the people who live there.

Even when I was fourteen, and I went on a cruise to Venezuela, I was with Daddy and Charles, and I latched on right away with other people, with Mr. Theo and Simon and some of the crew, and I wasn't alone. I couldn't be lonely, because I had St. George and he always, always defeated the dragon.

I didn't grow up until I was sixteen, alone in a foreign country because of Max, and I didn't grow up because I was there, but because of what had happened with Max. It runs through my head sometimes, even now. Every time I sip champagne -- which isn't often; college parties don't have anything but beer, and I'm not exactly invited to most of them anyway -- the taste reminds me of her.

I can still remember the time I told my father I wasn't like her, I wasn't like that. I remember the feeling of my stomach, clenching around a lie I couldn't stop. At that moment, I felt more homesick than ever before, even though I was standing across from my father right where we lived.

I slept with Renny soon after, and even then, even as I felt him inside me, passing those sacred Renier genes to yet another victim, even as I shuddered and came, I knew something felt wrong, not with the motions, not with Renny, but with me.

So I keep waiting for a sign, a sign of what I am, who I am.

But I don't even know where to look.



Often, Charles and I stay up talking for hours. He's just as fascinating as he always has been, my favorite brother and my personal partner in crime. He tells me about things he's done, people he's met, teachers so much better than the ones back at home. He listens while I tell him everything I've been holding in for years: about Simon, about Renny, about Zack. We speak in tongues, snippets of Greek before Spanish and, our most comfortable, Portugese.

"Do you have a girlfriend?" I ask him. He grins bashfully -- odd, for Charles -- and shakes his head no. "Boyfriend?" I offer, and again he shakes his head.

"Mother and Daddy'd have a fit," he says. "Can you imagine?"

"They seem pretty accepting." I'd told him about Max and Urs.

"Still. Not with me. They worry about me being different more than enough already."

I flush; look down at my lap for a moment. They worry about that with me just as much, but Charles is too tactful to mention that. "Have any special dreams lately?" I ask at last.

He nods.

"What about?"

"Nothing important." He bites his lip. "Xan doing okay?"

"Sure," I say. "He's got a new girl practically every week."

"If you say so." He shrugs. "I don't have as many dreams about normal stuff anymore, Poll."

"What do you mean?"

"You, Simon, Mother, Daddy.... I don't dream you anymore."

"What do you, then?"

"Mother's youngest brother, some. The one I'm named after. He's nice, I think. You'd like him. He had a unicorn." He smiles. "Well, not had, exactly. He rode one. Gaudior."

"More joyful," I say quietly.

"Right. He's a beautiful unicorn. When the other Charles dreams, Gaudior comes in a lot, and somehow, we both ride." The smile dies on his face. "And Xan."


"He's crying out, is all. He's lonely."

"But he and Kate love Benne Seed."

"No man is an island," he quotes at me. "And not all men can live on one. Didn't you ever want to be normal?"

"Charles! Mother and Daddy gave us wonderful lives."

"Sure, but not normal ones. You're not a typical college freshman, Poll. How many kids in your classes are fluent in five languages?"

"None. So?" I sigh. "Don't be horrid, Charles. No, we're not normal. But that's not bad."

"I never said it was. Not for you and me, at least," he says agreeably. "But maybe for him."



"Pol? Polly?" My father's voice sounds much farther away than just a few states.

"Hi, Daddy." Until I speak, I don't realize how much I've missed saying those words. "How are you?"

"Doing well. But we miss you."

"I miss you too."

"Peggy, Rosie, and Johnny demand presents, and Kate says to tell you that you can borrow her makeup as long as you give it back."

I laugh. "Thanks, Daddy. Charles and I were going to go shopping sometime next week anyway. We'll get something for the kids then."

"Dennys is okay with that?"

"Dennys suggested it. He thinks Charles and I need to get out more. You and Mother kept us pretty sheltered, you have to admit."

"No question about it." He laughs, hearty and rich, and I wish I could have taken him with me to college. "Oh, I meant to tell you."


"Tom called yesterday."

"Uncle Father?" I ask, delighted. Charles hears the words and turns to hear what's going on.

"Do you remember Mr. Theotocopolus?"

I laugh. "I was just thinking about him." I mouth 'Mr. Theo' to my brother, who nods and sits lotus-position, listening.

"His student is giving a concert about half an hour away from you, and Tom wants to see it. He said he'd love to do lunch with you first. Charles has school, but I figured you might be free."

"I'd love to see him," I say. "Is Mr. Theo going to be there too?"

"Tom doesn't think so. He's not doing so well, lately."

"Is he okay?"

"He's old, Polly. You know that. He was old four years ago."

"Daddy, he's not.... is he dying?"

In the present, away from the plane of existence where I talk to my father and time seems to stop, Charles squeezes my hand.

"Talk to Tom about that," Daddy says. "He'd know a lot better than I would." There is a pause, where it's clear he's talking to someone else, and he returns a moment later. "Your sister just fell off the slide. Can I talk to you later?"

"Sure. Bye, Daddy."

"Night, Polly. I love you."

"Love you too." The familiar *click*, and he's states away again. I feel my eyes weigh down with tears, and my vision blurs.

"What's going on, Polly?" Charles asks, and I remember that although he's intuitive, he's not psychic.

"Mr. Theo can't come to a concert one of his students is giving." Then the whole story flows out, all of Daddy's words and all of my own.

"He's led a good life, Poll," Charles says. "I mean, he's old. Older than Uncle Father, even. People grow older. They grow up. You grew up. It's not a bad thing."

"But that's not what should happen." I sigh, frustrated. "People shouldn't..."

"Is this about Max again?" he asks. We both know it's a rhetorical question.

"I'm over death, okay? I'm over it. I'm tired of missing people. I'm tired of waking up and realizing Joshua's gone, and Max is gone, and I saw a hearse when I was fourteen, and- I can't do it anymore, Charles. I can't."

"Polly," he criticizes gently. He doesn't continue. He doesn't need to. I find I'm sobbing. He offers me a tissue. I blow my nose, but the tears don't stop.

Charles stands up. "I smell pork chops. I'll cover setting the table today if you'll do it tomorrow."

It's Charles's nature to offer help, and here he can kill two birds with one stone.

In the few minutes I have to myself, I curl my knees to my chest and wait for my breathing to regulate itself. When my skin finally stops vibrating, I realize my brother has already called me for dinner.



I sip at the café au lait and try to feel like I belong in the expensive coffeehouse. In the new outfit I bought -- Max left me more money than I'd deserved, really; I tried to put it towards tuition, but Mother and Daddy said I deserved some spending money for fun -- I don't look out of place, but in my mind I'm just another O'Keefe, red-haired and gangly and not at all mature enough for this place. It's a relief when Canon Tallis finally walks in.

I forget the need to be mature when I see him. I jump up and wave, and he sees me right away. He comes over and hugs me and I hug him back. It's like being back home again -- home the way that really is home, the kind of home that's just about love.

"How's Harvard working out for you?" he asks.

I blush at that, which looks horrid, between my bright hair and bright cheeks. "It's... Harvard," I say finally. "I still can't believe I got in."

"Your parents are very proud."

"I know." I smile. "It's amazing. And Dennys and Lucy are fabulous. I'm really, really happy."

"What do you think your major will be?"

I shrug. "Language, probably. Linguistics. Translators make tons of money."

"No more writing?"

"Writing isn't exactly profitable."

"What is, if your heart isn't in it?"

I smile at him. "Talking to you is a lot like talking to Max."


"Oh, I thought Daddy told you about Max." I smile sadly. "Maximillia Horne. But she used to be Max Tomassi, I guess. She lived at Benne Seede."

His smile broadens. "I knew Max for a while. Lovely woman."

Everything is interconnected. "She's dead," is all I can say.

"What happened?"

I tell him all about the disease. I try to tell him everything I learned from Renny. I don't mention I slept with him. Just the pertinent facts. Just the word 'Netson' and his facial muscles contract in sympathy.

He sighs. "Urs must be devastated."

"You knew Ursula?"

"I knew her through Max."

"Did you know they..."

"Were lovers? Yes." He smiles at me. "It's rare to see two people as wholly in love as Ursula and Max."

I frown. "Isn't that against the church's teachings, sort of?"

"Some churches? Yes. But not Jesus's. I don't always follow doctrine, Polly. I follow The Word."

"I know," I say. "But it's... people say it's a sin."

"People say lots of things are sins. 'Judge not, lest ye be judged'."

I smile. He has a way of making people feel better about everything. I've heard all the horrible things about Catholic priests, about holy men who make everything less holy by comparison. I read the newspaper; I've seen what people can do to other people. But Canon Tallis makes you forget that.

"Anyway, Polly, I was wondering if you'd like to go with me to the concert."

"The concert?" I repeat, confused. "I heard it was sold out. And I can't really- I can't afford tickets to something like this."

"I have Theo's ticket. We both think you and Emily might really hit it off."


"Emily Gregory. She's Mr. Theo's student- the pianist."

"Wow. I've heard of her, actually. Mother and Daddy point to her as a reason that the kids should take their piano lessons seriously. They say she's a great example of true discipline paying off."

"Would you like to see the concert, Polly?"

"I'd love to. I mean, if it's okay with you and with Dennys and Lucy-"

"Would you like to call them?"

I excuse myself from the table, take my two quarters to the payphone in the corner, and call the number that I still can't think of as my own.

They say yes, of course, and seem as delighted as I that I get to go to a big famous concert, especially for a classical pianist like Emily Gregory. I feel absurdly pleased that I've been chosen for this.

Uncle Father takes the check, and although I've brought spending money of my own he insists on it being his treat. Unlike with most people, his doing this does not embarrass me.

We get into his car and begin to drive.



The concert starts at three, and we make it to our seats by 2:45. I prepare for good music, but it still surprises me. She informs the audience that she thought she'd do her warm-ups in here, and we'd get some extra music, if we don't mind. I'm surprised by how cheerful her voice sounds- how young.

She could be me.

No, she couldn't, I realize as I stare at her. She has long, dark hair and beautifully defined features. She's much too pretty to be me.

Then I remember what my parents had told us about her; what Uncle Father hadn't mentioned the entire car ride over as he told me about Emily Gregory and all of her accomplishments.

Emily can never see how beautiful she is. Emily's blind.

I let myself get lost in the music. It's beautiful and horrifying all at once. There's pain in the music, but also life. I want to melt into the comforting agony of it, but force myself to keep my mind straight, because Uncle Father is next to me and I'm a college freshman and I want to seem as mature as everyone else seems to think I am.

How can a girl this talented, a girl this amazing, not see what she's doing?

She plays pieces that make me forget who I am, that make me forget that I ever knew. She plays pieces that make the universe make sense.

I can't tell how long the concert lasts. It occurs outside of time. My entire life is in the music. My life right up to this point, all of it- Renny and Simon and Adam and Joshua and everything I've ever touched- means nothing because this music wasn't there as the background track.

After an eternity of symphony, it's over much too soon.

Uncle Father asks me what I thought and I don't quite have the words to tell him. I stumble around a bit, feeling fairly foolish, until he takes pity on me and laughs. "You must have really liked it," he says.

"Yes," I say, and for the moment that is enough. "Yes, I did."

Uncle Father smiles at me. "Those who are coherent after Emily Gregory's concerts are usually the ones who didn't understand them at all."

"I didn't know," I say softly, "that it was possible to do so much with music. I mean, I've seen what Mother and Daddy did- Daddy's told me countless times of that experiment he did when he was little with the plants- I understood theoretically, but to see it? To feel it? I've never felt-"

"Would you like to meet her?"

I stare at him, wide-eyed. "Meet... who?"

"Emily, of course."

"Emily Gregory?" I squeak. "Me?"

"Of course. I think you two would get along wonderfully. And so does Mr. Theo, as I may have mentioned."

Before hearing her play, I would have said yes in a heartbeat. But now... "I don't know what I could possibly say to her," is what I say to Uncle Father.

"Do you trust me, Pol?"

Automatic, "of course," because I do. If there's one person in the world that I trust, even more than Sandy and Rhea, even more than Mother and Daddy, maybe even more than Charles, it would be Uncle Father.

"Then come with me to meet Emily. I promise you it'll be good."

So I follow him, out through the crowd of people, and to the backstage area.

Out of the frying pan, and into the fire.



The backstage area is noisy and confusing. It's all I can do to follow Uncle Father and pray I don't get lost.

I wonder what it must be like for Emily. How terrifying, how awful, how full of awe.

I try to imagine a world of sound and no sight. It would be a world of Emily's music. And I have to wonder, would that be so bad?

Uncle Father knows where he's going, so it doesn't take long at all before he's knocking on a dark, nondescript door. "Emily?" he calls.

"One moment!" we hear through the thin wood. I still can't quite believe this is Emily Gregory. Her voice is deep and melodic, but for some reason I can't quite reconcile that with the music I just heard. The voice is human. Her music is almost seraphic.

Uncle Father squeezes my hand, and I squeeze back.

The girl throws the door open. She's wearing a thick, fluffy robe. "Sorry, I'm near indecent, I think," she says. "But I thought I recognized the voice, and I couldn't wait. Is it you, Canon Tallis?"

"It's me, Emily." Uncle Father clasps his hands around hers, and she smiles. After a moment of feeling his hands, she loosens her hands, and throws her arms around him.

When Emily is really, truly happy, her face glows. Right now, she could light up the night sky.

"Is Mr. Theo with you?" she asks. My breath catches in my throat. I don't have an answer. How can she? She's older than me, by a year or two, but she must have even less of a grasp on these issues than I. How could she see the evil in the world... if she can't see?

"You know what's going on with Mr. Theo," Uncle Father says gently. "He wasn't in a good state to come here."

"Well, that stinks," Emily says bluntly. "Who did you take in his place?"

Just like that? I find myself frozen, temporarily; amazed. How is it so easy for her?

Why is it not so easy for me?

"Emily, this is Polyhymnia O'Keefe. Polly. She knows Mr. Theo, and I believe her father did some work with Dr. Shasti and Dr. Shen-Shu, right?"

I nod, and then remember myself, and say "Yes, he did."

"Oh, wow. So we're like one-degree removed from each other. Okay. Hi, Polly," Emily says. She sounds so unassuming, so friendly. Like she's not such an amazing musician. Like she's just another kid, like me.

I glance at Uncle Father, who nods at me. "Hello. Um, hi." I swallow and hold out a hand. "Hi, Emily."

I reach over to put my hand into hers, but Uncle Father shakes his head no. I don't understand, but I guess somewhere deep inside I do, because I hold my hand still and let her find it, let her grasp it.

She holds on to my hand for a long time, just feeling it, five fingers and a palm but it feels like so much more. Years ago, when I was still a child (I'm still a child now), Daddy figured out how to regenerate tissue, how to make the hand of a girl grow back as much as the arm of a starfish. But could he grow back this, this connection I'm feeling as a girl I only know through her music runs her own calloused fingers over mine, the way that each of my rings, each of my scars, each of my cuticles tells her something about me?

My breath catches in my throat. It feels like an important moment. I don't fully understand why, but it feels like the most important moment in my life.

"Polly," she repeats slowly. "Polly O'Keefe."

"Yes," I say. My voice sounds different to me. I forget Uncle Father is there, forget anyone is there but Emily and me and those hands touching, connecting.

"Polly," she says again. Then she smiles, a deep and dazzling kind of smile. "Pleased to meet you."



We eat at a diner.

She orders a hamburger, and her hands find everything as perfectly as if she'd been able to see them.

I order a burger and feel clumsy and messy with my two hands and two eyes and no real control.

Uncle Father talks to us, to me and to Emily, and we both get on famously with him and it's wonderful, but the best parts of the meal are when he doesn't even need to talk because we're talking, Emily and me I mean, and it just works.

It turns out we have people in common, more people than I could have possibly remembered. Like Mr. Theotocopolus, of course, and Uncle Father, but it turns out Adam Eddington, who worked with my father one summer, lived a few blocks from her home in New York City, and she knows him, or knows of him, perhaps, but knowledge nonetheless. One of the people who used to live in her house- Emily, when she's not touring or at college, lives in a big brownstone with her father, and they rent out a few floors there- actually dated Adam, or liked him, or something. I try not to gossip- my parents are fond of reminding all of us at home that Proverbs 20:19 and 11:13 and all sorts of other passages warn against that- but my mind isn't processing much besides the fact that this girl, this amazing girl, this concert pianist with amazing hands who does things I can't even imagine, is sitting here talking to me and laughing like I'm the most interesting person in the world.

I feel the way I did when Zach would visit me, except that I don't feel the pressure I felt when he was here. I just feel warm, and comfortable. I've even almost stopped blushing every time I speak.

She's so smart, too. She went to an incredible college, Seven Sisters school, the whole bit. She's so articulate, even more than most of the other kids in my classes at Harvard. We get into a big discussion about the math of Beethoven, the kind of thing I thrive on that I can never ever convince anyone to analyze with me, and I'm smiling so much, my face muscles are starting to feel sore.

I forget Uncle Father is there, almost, until he tells us he has a meeting he ought to get to, and asks if we'd be able to get back home on our own. Well, me home; I suppose Emily would need to go to her hotel.

I remind him that Uncle Dennys gave me the car for the day, and I can drive Emily any place she needs. He smiles and leaves money, paying for both of our meals as well as tip. We both protest, and he says that he has more than enough and he's more than happy to treat two of his favorite girls to a nice meal.

It's a wonderful hamburger. It's a wonderful day.

We sit around for a long time, just talking. It feels awkward, but not bad-awkward, awkward the way a fast-developing friendship is, awkward like a first date.

After dinner, I drive her to her hotel.

"Can you help me find my room?" she asks me.

"Of course," I say.

"I'm on the fourth floor. Room 428."

"No problem."

She holds on to my arm as I lead her into the elevator. Her fingers seem to burn on my skin.



"Come on in," Emily says to me. I blush, but I follow her shyly. I'm glad she can't see my face.

"You seem so confident," I murmur to her.

"Yeah, well, looks can be deceiving." She laughs; offers a sly grin. "Also? Every hotel room in the country is the same. Bed. Other bed." She's pointing at each, and she's accurate. "Dresser. Desk. My very own copy of the Gideon Bible..."

My face relaxes into a smile. "You're amazing," I say. The words spill out before I can stop them.

"Am not," she says lightly. "I just learned what I had to do."

"You're good at it, though."

She shrugs. Then smiles wickedly, for the first time looking as young as I know she is. "Sit down," she says to me, gesturing towards the closer bed.

I stumble over and sit down. The bed is too soft. I sink down into it.

"Close your eyes," she instructs.


"Don't just say it," she says. "Do it."

How does she know?

"Shh," she murmurs to me. "It's okay." She sits on the bed, right next to me, on the edge so she doesn't sink. She offers me a silk scarf she's removed from her dresser drawer.

I understand instinctively, and allow her to blindfold me. Her hands brush against the back of my head, toying with my hair while she knots it.

The scarf is a deep cauliflower blue. I wonder how she could know what color would not look awful with my horrible red hair. I don't ask.

The silk is soft on my skin.

She moves away from me. "Where am I?" she asks me softly.

"I don't know."

"Yes, you do." I can hear the smile n her voice. Why do I trust her?

I don't know, but I do.

A dolphin would use echolocation. My eyelashes flutter against the blindfold uselessly. I hear the bedsprings creak gently. "The other bed," I say. I hear the unspoken question in my own quivering voice.

She giggles, bubbling over, and I can feel the agreement in her laugh. And I'm so proud of myself that it takes a few moments for me to realize she's asking again: "Where am I?"

I draw my focus, stretch it, imagine her in each position in the room.

In my imagination, she's no longer wearing the starched white shirt and black skirt of her concert. She's more comfortable-

But I hear her starched white shirt rub against leather and I report, obediently, "You're at the armchair."


This time I don't take the time to gloat, just listen as she moves, silent and perfect.

"Where am I?"

"By the television."

She doesn't say yes; just moves. "And now?"

She's stealthy, but I can follow it. "By the bathroom door."

"Where am I now?"

"The lamp."

I feel my bed shake gently with additional weight. "Now?"

"This bed." I hear my voice shake.

My legs are crossed, lotus-style; my skirt rides up my thighs, just a bit. I feel her black skirt- slinky and smooth- against my bare left leg. No; my right.

I'm so confused.

Is this how Emily feels?

"Where am I now?" I can feel her breath against my forehead. It all hits me at once. Now. Yes. Please.

"Here," I whisper.

And she kisses me.



I've been kissed before. Bedtime kisses from family, and goodbye kisses from friends. Geraldo, of course, and Renny and Zach.

This isn't like that, but then neither is it unlike that. To compare, things must relate; a kiss from Emily Gregory is only as much like a kiss from Zachary Gray as a grapefruit is like a brownie. Besides, as John Donne and Christopher Marlowe both said, comparisons are odious, and I'm not one to compare. Just to observe. I try to pretend I'm a scientist, like Daddy or Charles.

Her lips are soft, for example. And her tongue is too, but differently, intriguingly. It's definitely a girl's tongue and girl's lips and her hair smells vaguely citrus-y, like the shampoo some of the richer girls from Cowpertown used, but on them it smelled artificial and on her it smells pure and real.

Her hand is wrapping itself in my hair- I'm glad I've let it grow out- and I realize with a jolt that she's pulling gently at the fabric of the scarf. I almost don't want it to go. But how do you say that, say you'd rather be blind to someone who actually is? So she finally opens the knot and holds the blindfold there, just for a moment, and I gasp just a little bit and she lets go of the ends of the scarf. The silk floats between us for a moment, and then she places it on the bed. When she moves it away she, too, pulls back. My breath catches in my throat.

"I'm sorry," she says. I don't know her well enough to tell if she really is sorry.

"Why?" I ask.

"For that."

I'm confused for a moment, before realizing with a start that she meant the kiss, the kiss, she actually was apologizing for the kiss. My mouth drops open, gently, just a little, just shocked that she can possibly think that.

But she can't see me. She doesn't know.

"You didn't do anything wrong," I tell her.

Her face is bright red, the type of face I normally make. She should never be making this face. She's too good for this face. "I took advantage of-"

"Hey," I say gently. "I could have removed the blindfold if I wanted. Or stopped if I wanted to stop."

"It wasn't right of me," she says.

"It was perfect," I promise. And before she can continue self-flagellating, I kiss her again.

She breaks away. "Polly, I can read you better than you think. You don't do these things unless- unless- unless it's real."

"This is real."

"Not as real as you're going to want it to be. You're dates and flowers, Pol."

"I don't need to be."

"Yes. You do."

She's right, but I realize at that moment that I don't care. "So what?"

"The tour- I'll be gone soon-"

"After," I say.

"After the tour I go back to school. Pennsylvania. Hours from here."

"It's okay," I say. "It's okay. It doesn't need to be forever." I'm trying to be soothing. I feel lost.

"I can't do long distance," she says quietly. "It's too hard."

"I understand," I say, although I don't.

"Just tonight," she says firmly.

I wonder how many girls she's said that to before. A girl per tour date? But I don't ask. I don't think I want to know.

My choices are once or never, and I know where I fall.

"Just tonight," I whisper. She kisses me again, and I dissolve into the moment.


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